Editor’s note: I don’t have children, and I am not sure I ever will. But seeing the world through the eyes of a new parent is an exciting thing, and I am so glad that Sam Spector has decided to take all of us on his journey of travel and parenthood. For more of his articles, click here to visit his index page.
A couple months ago, I wrote about how travel saved my paternity leave when my wife and I drove our newborn daughter to five different national parks around Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho. Since then, Jill and I have taken Miriam to even more places: a trip to New England (our then four-month-old did not appreciate the foliage) and to the Field Museum in Chicago. After she visits some grandparents in New Mexico next week, our baby will have been to 11 of the 50 states in her first six months of life. But what about traveling internationally? In this article, I will be talking about how we made an international trip with a two-month-old a success.
First thing is first: why on earth would we travel with a baby? Like my motivation for traveling to various national parks, I was told by so many people while Jill was pregnant that our days of international travel were over. This comment bothered me a lot; it was one that I have heard throughout my life and has at times been to my detriment and in another way worked to my advantage. While as a child, we did memorable and incredible trips around the western half of the United States and an annual pilgrimage to Maui, with the exception of British Columbia, Canada (I grew up in Seattle, only two hours from the border), I really did not leave the United States until I was about 16 years old. It was at that age that I visited my childhood best friend who spent his summers in Turkey, and my eyes were opened to the beauty of exploring vastly different cultures. I often heard my parents say that when I was older, I could travel internationally. Since that trip to Turkey, I have been to 56 countries, largely due to my own misconception that it would be impossible to internationally travel once I had kids, and trying to cram as much in before I began the journey of parenthood.
So why did we decide to travel internationally with our baby? For one, we want our children to grow up experiencing other cultures, other foods, other languages, and having an appreciation and respect for the world beyond where they live. Traveling internationally will open their minds and give them education that they cannot get in any school. In short, international travel will help us raise children who are thoughtful, curious, and, I believe, interesting. Secondly, international travel is one of my wife and my shared interests where we find great joy; advice that friends gave us was not to let parenthood deprive us of our passions, to continue to do them but be conscious that we will have to make some adjustments to make the experience positive.
So how did we travel internationally? Honestly, there were some stresses that were involved with traveling with such a young infant. Firstly, Jill and I did not know if we were having a boy or girl, and thus, we did not know our child’s name until she was born. Secondly, to make a reservation for our daughter, we had to have a birthdate for her, which was impossible until she was born. In order to apply for a passport, we needed to provide a copy of her birth certificate, which took about ten days for us to attain after her birth. We also had to submit the usual passport information, including a picture of her and a form (we did get a kick out of writing on her application that her weight was 6 lbs and that she was 1’9” in height). Yet another problem was that it takes over a month for a newborn to be issued a social security number, which they ask for on the application. For those who do not have this yet, you have to write that she is a newborn and that it is in process. After all of this, we sent in her expedited application, and we were told that we would receive her passport within eight weeks, which at that point was exactly when our trip was to take place. However, over the summer, with Americans traveling again and the State Department being understaffed, there was a severe delay in processing times and 13 days out from our trip, with no passport in sight, I made the decision to apply for an emergency same-day passport, which one can do if their trip is within 72 hours. After several hours on hold, I scheduled my appointment for Miriam at our regional federal passport center, which is in Denver, an eight hour drive or one hour flight from Salt Lake City. Since our daughter is an infant, Jill, Miriam and I all needed to go to Denver with all of the documentation that was required, so we flew out and made a day trip out of it to Denver. By day’s end, we had Miriam’s passport in hand and were ready take our baby globe hopping.
So, yes, doing an international trip so soon after our daughter’s birth was logistically challenging in terms of getting her passport, but the rest of the trip was truly wonderful. International flights generally charge about 10% the cost of the adult ticket for a lap infant, while domestic flights do not charge for a lap infant, meaning that traveling with an infant is the most affordable time to travel. After the entire ordeal of getting a passport, where did we end up taking our baby? Our baby’s first international trip was to Iceland. There were many reasons that we chose to go to Iceland, aside from the fact that it was a place where Jill and I wanted to go.
From the West Coast of the United States, Iceland is a seven hour nonstop flight, meaning that there were no long layovers or tight connections. While seven hours is not a short flight, it is certainly easier and shorter than going to farther away places, and is more accessible from the western United States than most other international destinations. Another perk of Iceland is that we were able to see the principal highlights of the island nation in five days; this was appealing to us because as we were new to international travel with an infant, and should it be a disaster, we would not be stuck having a couple weeks of misery. Though some of my favorite places in the world are off-the-beaten-path destinations in the developing world, in traveling with a newborn, it was important to us that we were in a country where we could have some of the comforts of home, where hotels had nice cribs, where we could either easily drive a car or take expedient public transportation or shortly walk, and where, if we should need it, we would have access to quality medical care. Iceland checked all of these boxes. Likewise, we appreciated that Iceland is a very liberal country where public breastfeeding is welcomed rather than scorned.
A disclaimer when it comes to traveling with an infant: each baby is different. Jill and I are blessed that we have a very well-tempered baby who does not cry often, and typically sleeps throughout flights, car rides, and through the nights. I can only imagine that if we had a baby with cholic, our experience would not have been as positive. However, in Iceland, we drove around the southern coast and Miriam largely slept; an appeal to Iceland was that the main tourist attractions were not museums, but rather, waterfalls and walks that were right off of the road, easily accessible for our situation. The city of Reykjavik was also one of the most easily walkable cities that I have ever been to, easy to walk around with a compact travel-stroller (I recommend the UPPABABY Minu Stroller, and get the travel bag, which insures it in case the airlines break it). This was not a trip where we were going to a thousand museums, nor did we have a jam-packed itinerary, because you have to keep in mind that sometimes you are going to have an upset, hungry, or stinky baby that needs to be tended to, throwing off your schedule by a half hour. Likewise, in case our baby did not adjust to the time change (she did because she is perfect), we were prepared to sleep a little extra than anticipated in the morning.
Were there learning and frustrating moments in traveling with our baby? Yes. One challenge is that sometimes we would have to switch off during an activity (for instance, we could not take the baby into the Blue Lagoon, meaning that we had to take turns swimming and holding her). However, traveling with our newborn was an incredible experience. When I travel, I often think of the quote attributed to my hometown’s namesake, Chief Seattle, “Take only memories, leave only footprints.” Typically, my souvenirs are my memories and photographs. Having a baby is a whirlwind experience; people are not joking when they say that you blink and they grow up. Soon enough, perhaps too soon, she will be wearing her own backpack sojourning the world instead of me wearing her on a front pack, and forming her own memories. We were often asked why we were bringing a baby to Iceland when she would have no memories of this trip; she may not, but we will. We always remember the places we see, the people we meet, and the food we try, and having the memories of having all these experiences, while at the same time traveling the world when we are getting to know the person who will become the center of our world made our traveling better than it has ever been before.
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