I GAVE BIRTH to my first child 18 months after returning from a year-long round-the-world trip. Both experiences dramatically changed my life. Travel, particularly travelling alone, is one of the most daunting – and rewarding – things I’ve ever done.
Journey of a Lifetime: How Travel Prepared Me for Parenting
It’s scary, expensive and time consuming. Sometimes I wondered why the hell I signed up for it, but in the end, I was glad I did it. The same goes for the plunge into parenthood.
There are plenty other parallels between the two.
From the moment you make your list of what to include in your hospital bag, your life as a parent centers on packing. Diapers, wipes, snacks, toys. And while the traveler’s mantra is “pack what you think you’re going to need, then halve it,” the parent’s becomes “pack what you think you’re going to need, then triple it. And don’t forget the wipes.”
My favorite part of travel is the gadgets: pocket knives with eighteen different attachments, a cutlery set that clips together and compresses itself to the size of a matchbox. As soon as you have your first baby, a whole new world of gadgets opens up. Fold-up changing pad and plastic sippy cup with snack compartment attached, anyone?
Advice (Usually Unsolicited)
How many times have you been on the receiving end? You’re going to [insert well-known tourist destination here]? Don’t bother, it’s totally ruined. You should go to [insert slightly less tramped country here]. That’s the real [insert travel experience].’ Once you have children, advice hemorrhages from people’s mouths at an even greater rate. Now, it’s ‘Oh really, you let them watch TV? You do know it stunts their growth and turns them into career criminals?’ You learn to ignore what you don’t need and incorporate what works for you.
Meeting New People
Travelling alone, you have to ignore your butterfly stomach and just say hello to a total stranger. What you find is everyone is in the same boat, and most times you’re welcomed with open arms. Walking into your first mother-baby group, your nervous system will jump and bump with the same intensity. And again, you’ll be delighted to meet others who know exactly what you’re going through. Soon enough, you’ll find yourself sharing intimate physical details of which even your gynecologist is unaware.
The Immune System
Ever slept in a hostel where you suspected the bedding hadn’t been changed in a month?
Ever sipped from a beer mug you thought frosted but turns out it wasn’t? These all stand you in good stead once your kid starts toddling through your local park, picking up pieces of garbage, cigarette butts and even dog poo that they then give to you with a smile.
In all these ways, travel has made me a happier parent. When you find yourself lost and alone in Phnom Penh after dark or cooking meals on a camping stove from the few ingredients you have on hand, you soon learn not to sweat the small stuff. You learn to decipher what is truly a big problem and what is something you can accomplish easily by relying on your own ingenuity.