Emma and I love to travel. Prior to parenthood, we were rarely at home. We flew overseas numerous times. We toured Mexico and Peru for our honeymoon. We travelled back and forth across the UK – visiting friends and family and exploring areas of interest.
To set forth on such adventures with our children – expanding their horizons, introducing them to the myriad wonders of the world and including them in the thrill of discovery – is something we have both always longed to do.
Previously I’ve shared the following, regarding lifestyle and making it easier to cope with how hard parenting was going to be:
Life with children will be different. Compromise will be necessary. But, to begin with, I’d suggest that you actually plan to over-compromise in favour of your new and exciting, but challenging, parental activities and responsibilities. So, while on the one hand there will be certain elements of your old life that you’ll probably need to move aside indefinitely – maybe forever – I’m actually talking about the stuff you hope to be able to maintain. What I’m advising is that, at the beginning, you put these things temporarily to one side. You can reintroduce them in due course, whenever feels appropriate and achievable.
Travel was a fundamental aspect of our lifestyle before children.
But, just as the word ‘commute’ evokes melancholy, struggle and grind, the word ‘travel’ puts us in mind of leisure and relaxation. Freedom and adventure. One does not travel with infant children, any more than prisoner escort personnel travel with their detainees. No. We transport them. Carefully. From A. To B.
The transportation of children is not undertaken for leisure and relaxation. Nor is it undertaken in pursuit of freedom and adventure. It is undertaken … reluctantly. And with trepidation.
Because sometimes we have to go.
And society does not look favourably on leaving babies at home to fend for themselves.
When Emma and I brought Alex home from the hospital – and Adam, two years later – we retreated from the world. For a couple of weeks we went nowhere. Occasionally I popped out for supplies. Otherwise, undisturbed, we got to know our baby and our new parental responsibilities.
We were in no hurry to travel anywhere.
In time, we felt ready to leave our cosy shelter and take them with us. In the pram, for a walk. In the car, to the shops. These first few tentative expeditions helped us become more practised, more comfortable and more confident in carting our children about beyond the forgiving privacy of our domestic sanctuary.
We remained tentative, though. Not too adventurous. Wary of pushing our luck and falling foul of risks as yet unknown, we decided to stay close to home for an extended period. We waited several months to travel more than thirty minutes from our house.
After that arbitrary milestone, we did not look back. We were eager to return to the world. To reclaim our place in society. And make the children a part of it.
They adjusted well to car travel. Gradually we increased the distance. 40 miles to Salisbury. Fine. 60 miles to Chichester. 80 miles to Bath. 160 miles to Bideford. 200 hundred miles to Pembrokeshire, Wales. All good. When Alex was eight months old, we drove 260 miles to Yorkshire for a holiday. No problem. When Alex was three and Adam was one, we drove 400 miles to a town near Edinburgh, Scotland, for a family wedding.
I believe I found the experience more uncomfortable than they did.
Yes, we are all about the car. We have rarely used the bus, but when we do, the children are enlivened by the experience, to say the least. We have not yet used the train in earnest, only three times to date – little jaunts to entertain the children. Any proper journey for which you might normally choose rail – Camden Market in London, for example – we travel by car. Even so, our experience to date has been encouraging.
For destinations more exotic than Scotland and Wales, though, the children will have to wait.
Our travel policy is ancient law. Long ago, in the near-mythical time before children, Emma and I agreed that we will not travel with them by sea or air until they are five years old, which means Alex will be seven. The only exception might be the Isle of Wight ferry and before you say, ‘Chunnel,’ let me add ‘underground’ to the list of off-limit modes of transport, including the London Tube.
At this point, you may be thinking, “How very sad,” and, “How very mean.” But let me reassure you, Emma and I are not reluctant travellers, nor is it our intention to deny the world to our children. Not at all. We look forward to many far flung adventures in due course, both international and domestic.
I love introducing my children to new people and places.
I do not feel the same way about getting them there and bringing them back.
It is not for any great fear about the harm they may come to. Yes, when you first take them out of the house you become acutely aware of how small and fragile they are. And yes, you may experience fluctuating paranoia regarding their vulnerability and your ability to keep them safe. But, babies are more robust than we credit. They will not pop like a bubble if you misjudge a speed bump. They will not float away like a helium balloon if you roll down the window.
My children are more likely to end up on the wrong side of misadventure in their own beds than walking into town or travelling via public transport.
Timid and over-protective parents, we are not.
No, regarding long-distance travel and vehicular modes of transport, our original thinking was not to shelter our children by keeping them locked up, but to spare them the distress and discomfort that can plague long, complicated journeys.
Think of your most disagreeable experiences of trains, planes and automobiles…
Nowhere to sit. Traffic jams that last for hours. Queues to get in and queues to get out that never seem to move. Other people. Cancellations. No air conditioning. Other people and their children. Not enough leg room. No access to the toilet. Thirst. Having no idea where you are. Dashing between the closing doors. Being trapped in the same position for an eternity. Hunger. Minding the gap. Missing the exit. Herds of commuters that barge and trample. Boredom that slithers insidiously into your head and slowly constricts.
By adulthood, most of us have learned how to bear the horrors of travel without going mad. Old memories of nine-hour flights between London and Los Angeles still haunt me, though. Commuting underground every day, or standing for hours on a stationary train from Cork to Dublin – these recollections have a similar effect.
As much as Emma and I love to travel, we dislike gross difficulty and prolonged delay. We prefer not to subject ourselves to these intimidating and torturous experiences, let alone inflict them on our children.
Or inflict them on ourselves with children. Shudder. Herding cornered cats in the middle of a journey gone all the way down to hell? That is a storm too perfect to contemplate.
We believed that travel would become more tolerable more quickly if introduced gently as the children grew older. Hence our plan to start with no travel in the beginning, expanding to limited local travel for the first few months. The next transition to unlimited national travel by car was relatively painless.
We hope the same will be true when we broaden their horizons internationally.
“But …wait a minute… if you want to avoid long, tedious journeys, why drive all the way to Edinburgh? Why not take a domestic flight?”
Well, that’s a good question. I’m glad you asked. Now we come to the true heart of the matter.
We did not discover this until we started transporting the children over long distances.
Cost is an important factor, of course. As is comfort. In a car you have almost complete control over an entirely private, mobile environment – a compact extension of your house. Extremely advantageous. Plan your journey well and you can easily stick to a family-friendly schedule.
Be aware that family-friendly schedules can add considerable time to your journey, for regular family-friendly breaks. I estimate an average fifteen minutes per hour.
For Edinburgh, though, we left our house at 2am. Emma and the children slept a deep and peaceful sleep while I quaffed caffeine like an insomniac Viking, racing my faithful chariot north along a dark and empty highway.
But neither cost nor comfort are the most important factor.
Being able to carry with you absolutely everything you could ever possibly need – that’s the most important factor in choosing the car over any other form of transport.
In other words, the single most challenging aspect of child transport is not the transport of the child; it’s all the crap you have to transport with them.
At its worst, we might be talking: a set of clothes for the next day; a spare set of clothes for both days; a set of pyjamas and a spare set of pyjamas; shoes and coats; a box full of toiletries and first-aid products; the baby monitor; one or more safety gates; plug guards; nightlights; one or both pushchairs; travel beds for the children; bedding; food and drink; kiddy cups, plates, bowls and cutlery; nappies and nappy bags; several packets of wipes; a handful of toys and books; and booster seats for the dining table.
Oh – and everything we need for ourselves. And for the journey.
That’s just for one night. One. Night.
Do we really need it all? Well, yes, I’m afraid so. Four reasons:
- Whether we’re talking about clothes, food or toiletries, a child can use in a single day everything you and I might use in a week. Do not attempt to be clever.
- Your destination may not be suitably set up and stocked for small children. You will need to compensate for an environment at odds with your home and lacking daily essentials.
- While you and I can slip comfortably into a kind of stasis during passenger purgatory, your child does not have the training. Their needs cannot be neglected en route. Don’t worry about forgetting, though – they will remind you.
- Contingency planning is critical to success. Prepare for all likely eventualities. Do not attempt to be clever.
It is a logistical nightmare that adds significant time, effort and aggravation to your journey. You have to load everything into the car before you leave home, unload everything when you arrive at your destination, then repeat the process on return. While everyone else is making themselves comfortable and having a drink, you’ll spend half an hour lugging all your baggage from boot to bedroom.
And, while you can prepare as diligently as you like – generating a list for every journey, checking every item into and out of the car – no matter how hard you try, you will always forget something. Always.
Can you imagine dealing with all of this when travelling by plane?
I can’t decide which would be worse: heaving everything through the airport and onto the plane – and vice versa at the other end – or spending several days away from home without it all.
For nine months before they were born, we travelled everywhere with each child and it was easy – avoids looking at Emma – but after that, when you exist in a permanent state of exhaustion, it can sap your will to walk to your front door, let alone fly around the world.
It’s hard work, transporting a baby. Gathering up a child, etc. from A and delivering it all to B often seems more trouble than it’s worth.
Like a series of live military operations.
Like you’re moving house.
There are lots of parents out there travelling all over the place with their babies and toddlers and probably having a fine old time, I know. I also know that I’m peculiarly risk-averse, contingency-mad and preoccupied with trying to keep everything easy for myself and everyone else. That’s how I cope with the world, rather than hiding under the bed all day. We all have our individual levels of tolerance and live our lives accordingly.
When we became parents, we put travel on hold. That was our compromise. For four-and-a-half years now we have been transporters, not travellers. But we’ve also been parents, explorers on an altogether different adventure. Broadening our horizons without having to set foot outside. That has been our commitment.
I know these high-maintenance expeditions are only temporary, while our children are still in their high-maintenance years. As Alex and Adam grow older, it has become easier to travel with them. They require less stuff. They are learning how to keep themselves amused and distracted. They can tolerate longer stints in the car. Day trips and weekend breaks are more leisurely. Holidays begin to feel like holidays again. They are more likely to listen and behave appropriately. Alex is moving beyond the age of childhood amnesia and developing an interest in the wider world. They can participate. They can remember.
All in good time, then.
An exciting age of discovery, adventure, freedom and future reminiscence awaits us.