Sunday, October 20, 2013

I don't know how you do it...

I get that comment a lot when it comes to traveling with our little ones.  This has become a more frequent statement since Baby C entered the world and started joining us on our adventures as well.  Let me just say that it's not quite as hard as it sounds, but it's also not as easy as it looks.

We decided when we found out we were living in Germany, that we were never going to let having children slow us down.  We, of course, had no clue what that meant, but we were willing to give it a try.  The hardest part seems to be getting the momentum going.  Once you start traveling, the kids have a way of getting used to it. Or maybe we just have a better idea of what to expect, which can be equally as helpful.

Hiking in Cinque Terre when little r was 2 years old

We do travel quite a bit with our boys, and we have no secrets.  That said, there are many sides of our adventures that never make it to my blog page.  I do foreclose some of the madness like when I spent a week in Italy while Big R had a trial and traveled alone for several days with a teething monster.  Oy, I still get an instant headache when I think about that experience. The day of incessant screaming along the canals of Venice encapsulated that trip to a tee.  Or when we took little r to the south of France to discover the beauty of Provence and Cote d'Azur. I was 9 weeks pregnant at the time, dying with morning sickness, and seriously wishing we could find a friendly gypsy to hand little r over to.  He was an absolute hellion on that trip.

Channeling his inner royalty in Berlin at age 2

Our adventures are full of all the fun stories related to moody children, tantrums, and poop. Lots and lots of poop.  When you keep traveling like we've been fortunate enough to do, you start to figure out little ways to avoid the madness.  You seriously get used to certain things and adjust.  I talk to other good friends of mine here that travel with their little ones equally as much as we do, and we all have different ways of coping as we need to in order to make the trip enjoyable for everyone.

Probably the toughest adjustment, especially for Big R, was going on these adventures and having to wake up at 6 am with little r ready to start the day.  Most of the B&Bs and guesthouses (our preferable choice for our overnight stays) don't serve breakfast until 8, so we have to be sure we are armed with snacks until food is served.  That said, little r always ensures that we are ready to go first thing in the morning.  We often get to see the some of the busiest tourist sights crowd-free, and we've actually learned to appreciate this.

Trento first thing in the morning - not a soul in sight yet!
The first few trips we took, we forced little r to nap.  He refused to sleep any other way, so we'd take ourselves back to the hotel and let him scream it out until he fell asleep.  And I mean literally, scream it out.  We slowly started to change this approach when we realized it ruined a big chunk of our day, and that he was more likely to fall asleep during our excursions if we didn't force it.  We are truly lucky with little r.  For the longest time he would happily fall asleep wrapped up in the Moby while I discovered ancient churches and beautiful paintings.  Then he would often fall asleep within minutes of us sitting down to dinner.  I'm happy to say we rarely had to give up the experience of enjoying a dinner in Plaza Navaro in Rome or along the beach in Mallorca.  He was happy as can be crawling up on a bench with his head in my lap.

Asleep on Daddy at a piazza in Rome
We don't always get so lucky though.  Sometimes you are feeding them dinner in a bathtub or drinking wine and eating trailmix in the bathroom of a hotel room after the kids go to sleep.  We had to avoid churches for awhile because little r couldn't handle the quiet and would always decide to scream the minute we walked inside.  And we generally avoid museums because life is just easier that way.

A carriage ride in Prague

Now onto the poop.  Those stories are better than the crying tantrums or embarrassing scenes at lunch when little r is sick of watching Toy Story or Curious George on my iPhone. There is rarely a decent changing table in public restrooms. In fact, there are often not even public restrooms in the places that we visit.  So, we have to get creative.  I've changed diapers on ancient fountains, beaches, and in my lap.  I've thrown underwear away at airports and biergartens, and coaxed the poop out of a constipated toddler on the toilet in a hotel room.

One of my favorite stories is changing Baby C's diaper at Auschwitz, of all places.  It was a very hot and clammy day in Poland, and somehow the boys were amazing for the entire guided tour of Auschwitz.  We didn't realize that we could have driven to Auschwitz II instead of taking a hot and steamy bus there, and the guided tour had at least another hour left.  The boys had had enough, so we bailed on the tour, and missed the bus by mere seconds.  Baby C's diaper was super wet, but there was no where to change him.  So, I sat down on the ground at the bus stop, and laid him in my lap.  No biggie. I do this all the time, and we were the only ones there. I took off his diaper, and before I knew it there was a stream of pee aiming for my lap.  Big R's eyes got wide, and I said, "could be worse - he could have pooped on me."  Just as I said that, he exploded poop all over my lap. It was awesome. Yellow, gooey, slimy, infant poop. Big R and I were laughing in hysterics.  Just as it happened, the bus pulled up, and instead of giving us space, the bus driver parked adjacent to where I was sitting, so everyone that got off the bus had to walk over me.  It was seriously pure awesomeness. I kept telling Big R that I was so hot and couldn't wait to change out of my jeans into shorts for our drive home.  He just laughed after Baby C unloaded in my lap and said, "guess you really want to change out of those jeans now!"

Traveling with a little infant is actually pretty easy in comparison to traveling with a toddler, as long as you can learn to function in somewhat of a sleep-deprived state and ignore your body parts screaming at you because they still haven't healed from childbirth.  All that aside though, it's kind of fun to travel with a little baby.  All they do is sleep, eat, and poop (not necessarily in that order), and be cute, of course.  You get a lot of adorable pictures and you have every excuse in the world to carry the baby close to you all day long.  Can't beat that.  But you do need to be prepared for the same wakeful nights that you get at home.  At the infant stage, I'm not sure babies care much where they are sleeping, it's all the same.  In Belgium, Baby C upped the anty on me, and not only decided to get me up every hour or so, but he decided to have a major blow out in his diaper at about 3 am.  Navigating in the dark to clean poop off of you and an infant in an unfamiliar place is actually pretty hilarious in hindsight.  The best part was, I'm not sure anyone even knew I was giving Baby C a bath in the sink at 3 am.

Family photo in Brussels

I'm lucky that I'm able to nurse Baby C.  That definitely makes our travels easier... well, most of the time that is.  I've nursed him in trains and buses, on benches in downtown Brugge, deep in the salt mines of Bertchesgaden, on boat rides across the Konigsee, and even tried to nurse him from the back seat of the car by sticking my boob in his mouth while Big R drove us down the autobahn. We do what we have to do!

My boys in Sienna, Italy
Yes, traveling with littles gives all sort of fodder for fun stories.  I don't always share them on my blog though because honestly, they are usually just the normal happenings of our trips.  More often than not, things will run incredibly smooth with the rare occasion of Baby C screaming when we are navigating downtown city traffic looking for a parking place or little r throwing a tantrum in the foyer of a beautiful B&B just to make our host incredibly nervous or little r getting carried down a ski slope by Big R when he freaked out at the top.  It all happens, it does. But it's no big deal.  At the end of the trip we are usually left more with memories of hiking Pont du Gard in southern France together as a family or sharing hot cocoa at the bottom of a ski slope instead of the knock down drag out fight I had with little r outside of a castle or Baby C pooping in my lap (although, that's a pretty hilarious memory to not forget).

Hiking across Pont du Gard in France
I have survival tactics. The most obvious being my awesome travel companion, Big R.  I'm not sure I could do this without him, and the few times I've tried, I was miserable the entire time.  I always bring my yoga mat. I bought a travel mat that folds up small enough to fit into a suitcase.  Every morning before breakfast on our trips, I do a quick 20 minute yoga session - literally every morning.  And finally, we always enjoy a glass of wine.  That's one of the reasons we love trips where we can walk everywhere, so we can relax, drink wine, and eat delicious food without worry.  (Picking a hotel or B&B close to the action is also key to survival when you travel with little ones!)

Enjoying a glass of wine and the view from our porch in Austria
So, how do we do it?  We just do, and I can't encourage you enough to just do it, too. It's both easy and hard, exhausting yet exhilarating.  Mostly though, it's just a great way to create memories with your family.

1 comment:

  1. Jo, that was awesome! The lessons your kids are learning just by taking them everywhere are priceless! And I'm sure the challenges and rewards make you and Rory closer than most couples who seem to drift apart once kids arrive. It's nice to know it's possible and really good to hear the realities of traveling with kids. :) Thank you for sharing. I'm so happy for you and your family - that you get to experience the beauties of Europe together. Love to all! ~Niki