I remember going to Barcelona five years ago and presenting my then boyfriend (now husband) with our schedule for the five days that we were to spend there. It was meticulously researched, beautifully typed out and planned hour by hour.
He took one look at it and asked: ‘When are we going to just relax?’
I said: ‘We don’t go on holiday to relax, but to see as much as possible.’
And so it was! We went to countless places of interest, visited several museums and traipsed tirelessly round Barcelona. On a very rainy afternoon, I even made us leave the refuge of the hotel’s spa in order to go see Picasso’s museum, even though I don’t have a particular interest in his art, but not going was perceived by me as missing out.
Yes, I was really preoccupied with not missing out on things and was determined to do as much as possible so as to be able to tick the trip off in my mind as successful.
As such the Barcelona trip was super successful and on our return I felt like I needed a week off to recuperate.
Another thing that kept bugging me on such leisure trips was the perception of a constant lack of time. Within minutes of arrival at a particular place of interest, I would be worrying that I was spending too much time there and that I would be late for the next place to visit according to my carefully constructed plan.
As for relaxing at the hotel: forget it! Several years ago, whilst spending a long week-end in Tuscany, I would forgo breakfast at the hotel each morning in order to leave as early as possible on my exploratory missions around the Tuscan towns.
I would breeze through a museum, glance quickly at an exhibition, skip through the provided information and move on. Parks were for very brisk walks only. Everything had to be done quickly. People who took their time risked my wrath.
The clock was ticking. There was still so much to see and do. I had to get there asap!
Perhaps I wasn’t much fun to travel with, but, honestly, I wasn’t too bothered about that. I would travel extensively on my own, see as much as I could and once managed to cover most of Scotland in ten days taking all sorts of transport from Edinburgh to Loch Ness and down to Glasgow, including a postal van.
Six years ago, when I met my husband, he was solemnly initiated into my travelling ways. After the Barcelona trip, he so successfully assimilated my paranoia of ‘I’m afraid I’m going to miss something’ that, when we planned an escapade to Florence next, we spent several happy hours scheduling museum and church visits in order to cram as much in as humanly possible.
And then we had a baby…
And things changed!
We are still full of zest for travel and are ready to get in the car and go explore new places at the drop of a hat. However, there are no more detailed schedules, nor exhaustive research online. As I told a friend of ours who wanted to show us Milan, if we manage to see the main place of interest in town, we are happy. Everything else is a bonus.
Well, when you are travelling with a baby, there are many things to consider and attempt to bring along with you. If you have ever wondered why parents carry so much stuff around with them, have a look at my top 11 indispensable items when travelling with a baby. This remains the most popular article on my blog. I would imagine many parents will recognise themselves in it.
Once everything is nicely packaged and stuffed in our little red car, often I realise that we have forgotten something, so my husband needs to unlock all the locks and run back in to fetch it. I am not proud to admit it but after getting bags with stuff ready, including water, snacks and a change of clothes for a recent day trip, I forgot my baby’s shoes! Still, I remembered them just in time before we had actually driven off.
If we travel by train or plane, often we need to add a car seat to the mountain of luggage too for the car rental or taxis at the other end of the journey. Try to reason with a passive aggressive taxi driver at Marco Polo airport that putting the car seat in the taxi will only take a minute or two. We were cut off pretty quickly that time with the observation that we were delaying the taxi queue. A few months earlier a taxi driver in Bulgaria told me to hold my baby’s car seat with my hands as he didn’t have safety belts on the back seat. This would have worked so well in case of an accident… not! I am proud to say that I kicked an almighty fuss and the company sent a new taxi pronto.
Luggage and car seat issues aside, we also need to plan for nappy changes, breastfeeding and nap times.
You only realise how well things in England are organised in this respect once you venture beyond her borders. Comfortable changing facilities and spacious family rooms in shops, malls, cafes and places of interest are still to catch up on a grand scale in both Italy and Bulgaria.
In Bulgaria, where I’m from, some steps have been made to accommodate mums, but not fathers, as changing facilities are usually in the ladies’ rooms. Unfortunately, they are often installed right next to the hand dryers, the noise of which makes my baby cry.
In Italy, where we currently live, we have managed to find changing facilities three times – twice in Venice and once in Verona. I keep meaning to ask Italian parents how they do it.
As such we don’t really rely on these luxuries anymore and have started to use our car instead.
As for breastfeeding, I am never sure what the etiquette for this is in the three countries that we currently travel between. In England there is a law stipulating that service providers cannot harass or discriminate a woman because she is breastfeeding. Still, almost every week there are articles in the English press about some poor mother who has been asked to do it in the toilets or cover herself when trying to feed her baby. The comments such articles attract can make your eyes pop out of your head with seemingly a general opinion held by both men and women that breastfeeding is a bodily function best kept out of sight.
In Bulgaria and Italy I have seen ladies breastfeed in cafes. In Bulgaria they often resort to a blanket to cover themselves and the head of their baby up. In Italy I haven’t seen blankets used yet.
As for me, I wish I had the elegance of the young mother whom I saw breastfeeding her baby on the train from London Bridge to Gatwick. She didn’t use a blanket and made it look absolutely effortless and easy without revealing anything. I am much too insecure not to use a blanket, especially on flights, but sometimes needs must.
As such, I remember a time when we were running through Luton Airport, desperately trying not to miss our plane, when our baby had to feed. She was getting increasingly unhappy, but there was no time for us to stop. A huge thanks to our beloved baby carrier Ergo for coming to my rescue. It’s really been one of the best purchases of my entire life. I buttoned its flap up and was able to keep walking fast to the gate whilst successfully breastfeeding my baby. Job done!
Talking of airports, let me mention, too, how things have changed for me in terms of pre-flight time since I had my baby. Before I would happily browse the duty free shops whilst waiting for the flight. Often I would have a coffee or a meal. I would always treat myself to a new perfume.
Nowadays, the majority of time is taken by the security checks. And not because they are really strict. It’s mostly because it takes so much more time going through security with a baby. We usually need four or five trays to accommodate the changing bag, baby coats, laptops, belts, jackets, hand luggage and the rest. Then her water cups get a separate check in a rather snazzy device, too. At the end, we need to put back on our shoes and stuff everything again in the bags. All the while holding the baby and making sure that we haven’t forgotten this, that or the other.
And, let me tell you, since a well-dressed businessman tried to cut in between my husband, my baby and me at the security scanner at Milan Malpensa airport, I really appreciate the separate family security queue they now have at Gatwick Airport. There at least everyone is with kids and fully understands why you may need a little bit of extra time.
All these little things aside, travelling with a baby is actually a great experience.
No matter how small your baby is and how short your trip is, you are showing your child the wonders of this world. She or he gets used to people speaking different languages and exhibiting different cultural traits. She or he sees things that are beyond our ordinary lives. I’m hoping that this will help enlarge my baby’s horizons and make her more independent and self-sufficient as she grows.
Travelling with a baby can also be a very social experience as people (especially in Italy) tend to be very attentive to small children. There is always someone saying ‘Ciao!’ as we walk down a medieval street, other parents come to talk to us and she has been offered gelato and chocolates in several shops notwithstanding if we had bought something or not.
Another thing that we enjoy now is trying to find a playground in every town and village that we visit with our baby. We take her to plenty of museums and ruins all the time, and it’s only fair that we set aside some time for her to have proper fun. As a result we have enjoyed mummy, daddy and baby bonding time in some spectacular places. Like the playground in Lake Garda’s Lazise, which overlooks a fabulous medieval castle. Or the playground in Recoaro Terme which is above a wild stream with a backdrop of beautiful blue mountains.
Above all, travelling with my baby has taught me to simply stop and enjoy the moment as it happens. For example, during our visit to the splendid Duomo in Milan, my baby wanted to touch every single mighty column that lines its aisles. So we went from column to column with her little fingers touching the stone and exploring its surface for minutes at a time.
Whereas before I would have breezed in, had a thorough but quick look around and be ready for the next thing on my sightseeing list, this time I actually enjoyed slowing down and seeing this fabulous place through the eyes of a child. We didn’t see much of Milan after that, but I have a memory to cherish my whole life rather than a ticked off list to make me feel good.
I also don’t run out of hotels anymore as soon as the sun comes up. Instead, during our recent week-end in Verona, on Sunday morning we simply enjoyed some family time in the hotel room, had a leisurely breakfast, chatted with other parents at the tables next to us and only checked out at the last minute which still gave us plenty of time to explore the city and have a fabulous day.
Here is to travelling with a baby! I had never expected to actually enjoy so much having a travel companion who is a lot more demanding than me!
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Have a fabulous day!