Fact: Touring a city as an individual or spouse compared to touring a city as a parent are polar opposite experiences. Before Will and I decided to start our family, we were avid travelers, both as a dating and married couple. Together we’ve spent a month in Ghana – twice, attempted to visit much of the UK (until I was quarantined in a hospital in Liverpool, but that’s another story), hopped around Turkey and Greece, vacationed in Croatia (and we were sent back to the U.S. by border guards there, too!) and Slovenia, popped in and out of Hungary and Slovakia, and seen a decent amount of Austria.
Since we were normally alone during our travels, we were rarely in a rush. We took our time in churches and museums and palaces, and ate where we wanted to when we felt like it. One time Will found a map exhibit in the British Museum and was so engrossed in the display that he lost me in the exhibit. I gave up looking for him and was bored out of my mind because who gets that excited about maps. I fell asleep on a bench, outside, for 2 HOURS, until he found me. That happened 6 years ago, and we still argue about who was in the right that day, but I tell you that short story as a demonstration of the kind of time we had at our disposal.
When you travel with a baby or toddler, however, time is all you have. There’s no playing with it; it’s too precious. You don’t know if your kid is going to wake up at the crack of dawn and demand food when, of course, nothing is open yet, so you have to dig out the snacks and pray you have enough for later. Then you have to decide if you’re willing to keep your kid out the entire day or go back to the hotel for 3 hours of silent alone time with your phone while your kid takes a nap. Unless you have a Kindle, forget reading a book, because you absolutely have to sit in darkness for nap time to be a success. But let’s say you decide your kid will hopefully sleep in the stroller while you’re out touring; they won’t. Or if they do it’ll be for less than half the time they usually nap which will really bum you out come dinner time when your kid is so. done. with this day and this food and this high chair and you. So you zip through an incredibly old church over here and give a nod of approval to the watch tower over there and send your spouse off to do that one thing he or she really wants to do while you aimlessly push the stroller around the same city square with its diseased pigeons flocking around you because your child keeps giving those gross birds their Cheerios. And for some befuddling reason, the guys and gals who dress up like Mozart to sell concert tickets or like sailors to sell boat tours or like themselves to sell segway tours think you are the IDEAL person to talk to about these things, and it’s all you can do to politely say something other than, “WHAT IS IT ABOUT BEING 6 MONTHS PREGNANT AND PUSHING A STROLLER THAT SAYS YES, PLEASE, PUT ME ON A SEGWAY.”
Your spouse eventually comes back, and if you have a toddler you look for a park for them to run around in because they’ve been in the stroller way too long and they’re starting to get stir crazy. You survive dinner even though your kid threw all of the complimentary bread on the ground and didn’t eat a thing but those pigeons sure had a party. Finally you make it back to your hotel and your exhausted little one somehow has enough energy to jump on the bed and run away from bath time and all you can think about at this point is sleep no matter how filthy your kid got while feeding the ducks. So eventually… miraculously… you all fall asleep. Your trip comes to an end. You go back to wherever you call home. The next day you bump into a friend who asks you how the trip went, what you thought about the city. You smile and genuinely mean it, and say, “It was cool. Looked old.”
As a parent, I may not learn as much about a city or building or ruin as I would have in the past. My trips may have snags and holes in them, and they may feel chaotic and disorganized. Pigeons will be fed and I will be tired and probably get a headache. But if I called off traveling with kids altogether, I couldn’t tell you about the time Elliott sang the Star Wars Theme Song SO INCREDIBLY LOUD in an enormous cathedral in Prague, and it was hilarious, nor could I tell you that he fed swans next to the Charles Bridge. I couldn’t tell you about the time he made a little toddler friend at church in Slovakia, and I certainly couldn’t tell you about the time he pooped everywhere while we were looking at the scary gnomes in Salzburg.
Traveling with little ones in tow is hard work. Shockingly so.
But don’t let them hinder your desire to travel. They need to see the world, too.