Traveling with a toddler is perhaps the most wondrous adventure, and stress-inducing escapade, that one can have.
Recently I was able to travel with my most amazing 14-month old for an entire six weeks. While part of this journey we took with his father, the majority was international and solo — just me and the babe. I was so delighted to see the world through his eyes; and at the same time terrified and alone with a walking, teething toddler in a foreign country.
The journey sounded daunting. We were faced with the prospect of a 14-hour Pacific flight (both ways!) as well as two long cross-Canada flights on our way home, on top of a month of surface travel on our own.
Me and the babe, off on an international adventure.
Adventure tourism — both inside and outside the house
At 14 months old, he was a walking, adventurous, reaching-for-everything little explorer. At home, our house is baby-proofed only minimally. But staying in other people’s homes? The idea was terrifying. And yes, at times, it proved exhausting. Our small one was excited to explore everything and anything, including kitchen drawers, toilet brushes, TV remotes, cell phones, toothbrushes in toilet bowls, stacks of papers. Everything was an adventure to him, and while he was excited to explore, I was stressed at the best of times. I worried how our hosts might perceive him (and me), what he might break, and whether or not we would wear out our welcome. Our mornings became a flurry of activity as I shovelled breakfast into both of us, got ourselves dressed, and bolted out the door with small one strapped to my back.
Off to have ourselves adventures in the wide open world that they call Australia.
This part of our adventure—exploring a new world—truly was amazing. Before our adventure, numerous people asked if it was worth my taking the babe when he was so small. They wondered: would he enjoy it? Was he too young? Wouldn’t it be better to take him once he’s old enough to remember this adventure? But soon it became apparent that, yes, at 14 months he absolutely was old enough to enjoy and revel in these adventures. Coming from a harsh winter in St. John’s and months without walking barefoot in the dirt or touching and smelling fresh flowers, my small one was entranced by this thing that people like to call ‘summer’. He randomly walked up to bushes and flowers to smell and touch the petals and leaves. He squished his toes in the grass. And while we already knew his love of water, we had no idea just how great it was until this trip. If it hadn’t been for the careful arms and watchful eyes of myself and my brother (who lives in Australia and was the reason for our visit), small one most certainly would’ve been washed out to sea time and time again. He fearlessly ran into the warm ocean waters, over and over again. No fear — just utter bliss and excitement at the feel of wet sand beneath his toes and warm salt water surrounding his body.
And animals! Small one was entranced and excited at the swath of new animals at his disposal. Prehistoric-looking ibis birds to chase in Brisbane parks, dinosaur-like water dragons to stare at, and the pitch-perfect calls of rainbow Lorikeets and Cockatoos singing in the morning. He quickly began to attempt the word ‘bird’ as he listened to their calls. Indeed, at this age his excitement in the world is enormous. He wants to take in everything, experience everything, touch and feel and smell and see everything. He wants to meet people — my social little baby. On buses and ferries he reached out to people around us. As we walked the busy sidewalks of Sydney, he would make silly faces and talk to people on the streets next to us as I carried him on my back. In water parks and on the beach he had no problem randomly walking up to other children to smile and touch their faces. And even in restaurants, as he tried new foods such as tofu satay and potato roesti, he tried generously to share his food with other restaurant patrons or with our server.
Fourteen hours of fear?
And the most terrifying part of the trip that I had feverishly anticipated with dread — the 14-hour Pacific flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane? To my utter surprise, those biggest fears and worries were cast aside by my most wonderful little travelling companion. I didn’t need to worry a bit. As of the end of our trip my little one has travelled on a total of 34 airplanes: all at the age of 14 months! He’s truly a seasoned pro (so much more than his over-worried mama!). But, like the over-prepared mama that I am, I packed our bags with his first-ever processed food snacks (organic squeezie smoothie packs, rice puffs, and vanilla-flavoured animal crackers), loads of his favourite books (plus a few new ones to catch his attention), Sophie the Giraffe, and some hand puppets. We kept one bag with easy-to-reach items (for both of us) stored at our feet on the airplane, and another carry-on suitcase stored in the overhead compartment full of cloth diapers and extra clothes for both of us. I chose to forgo a stroller, wearing him in a soft-structured carrier through security and onto the airplane. This had the advantage of leaving my hands free to carry our luggage and buy a pre-boarding coffee (of course!).
And it turns out I needn’t have worried about a thing. He was more interested in reading the on-board magazines and safety guides, playing peek-a-boo with other passengers, visiting the flight attendants at the front or back of the airplane, making faces in the bathroom mirrors, and trying sparkling water for the first time in the airplane bar with other passengers. Our biggest mishap during these flights occurred when he poured his squeezie pouch full of organic raspberry, oat and spinach all over the lap and suitcase of a passenger next to us during a flight from Brisbane to Sydney. (This, most likely, was payback for said passenger constantly squeezing his cheeks during the flight.)
Travelling with my little one truly was the most wondrous adventure, as I was also able to explore Australia through his many expanding senses. And the most exhausting part of the trip? Simply being a solo parent to a very adventurous little person.
No place like home
As wonderful as our adventure was, we are both very excited to be back home in our own space, with our minimalist baby-proofing and a familiar environment full of wonderful supports. I realize how very, very lucky we are that our small one has been able to spend the past year forging wonderful relationships with far-away relatives such as grandparents, cousins, and uncles that he recognizes easily, and to have such a wonderful family here in St. John’s to come home to.
Just now he’s snuggled up to his dad, who he so obviously missed, blowing him newly-learned kisses; and I am grateful to have some moments to myself. Simple happy moments to lay in bed with a cup of morning coffee while small one and dad make morning oats together. Or even just these moments to sit and write about our adventure — this itself is an incredibly difficult task when I’m alone with small one.
Yes, a wonderful adventure it was. But now that we’re home, we’re happy to move forward into a St. John’s spring, to visit with friends and family here, and to have new adventures in Newfoundland as small one continues to grow.
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