“Why would you do that to a baby? That is a bit selfish.”
“Taking an 8-month old backpacking? Seriously?”
“Honestly, just who is this whole thing for? You or the child?”
“Now is the time for you two to grow up and be parents. Sorry I am being harsh here but this is just a stupid idea.”
These are real quotes from Reddit users that my wife Emily and I received after posting that we were planning to travel to 12 countries in 12 months with our infant son Carter (7 months old). We innocently expected a less-vitriolic result when posting about our upcoming trip online, but even when we announced our plan to friends and family, we received a few similar reactions. In the end, though it affected us, we didn’t let it stop us. After all, we had done the research and they hadn’t. We knew it was going to be fine.
Flash forward a year and some change. A little after we returned from our trip around the world, I posted something else on Reddit, showcasing a few of the pictures from each country — almost every photo including Carter. This time we got a very different reaction:
“This is fantastic. I have 9 month old so I’m very curious about the child aspect of your trip.”
“What a great experience!”
“Just wanted to say, this is AWESOME!”
“Wow! Really spectacular pictures, I would love to do this with my family…”
“Nice photos, I’m pretty impressed that you’ll be able to travel with a kid.”
“Wow, I can’t even imagine doing this with a kid!! Good on ya, very cool!”
The responses were from the same group of people as before, but instead of lambasting us and saying we were selfish, they were lauding our efforts and expressing that they would love to do a similar trip. While this probably has some deeply significant sociological meaning, what’s most interesting to me was the realization that people are quick to knock your plans because they don’t know (or believe) it’s possible, but once they see it, they’re interested in doing it themselves.
No one wants to be first to jump in deep water.
We weren’t the first family to travel with young kids and we won’t be the last. I wish there was a guide that told us these myths and rumors were just that. There were so many times our “12 countries in 12 months” trip was nearly cancelled because of pressure from others or our own doubts, but we came to understand that, while it takes a lot of work, travel with family is not only possible — it’s massively rewarding. When we left, we knew we were doing something unconventional, and many people were quick to point out why they thought it was wrong. Now that we’ve returned, we know we’d have felt silly if we avoided things simply because others told us to.
“Flying with kids is the WORST”
It’s pretty common to hear that flights longer than two hours with children are the stuff of nightmares, and we were planning over 16 flights — most lasting longer than seven hours. On three instances, we were in between airports and planes for over 30 consecutive hours trying to get from one country to the next.
But, surprisingly, our son handled it better than us.
The first major flight of our trip was from Los Angeles to Christchurch, New Zealand. It was our second flight ever with a baby, and was a 14-hour trip with a two-hour layover in Fiji. We assumed there would be weeping and wailing the entire time and were ready to distribute ear plugs and handwritten apologies to our fellow cabin-mates.
But the storm never came. Carter was a champ from gate to gate. Granted, I think our son went easy on us — not all parents have the same luck. We’d been told that the worst was inevitable, but instead found that infants behaving well on long flights is far more common than people make it sound. Frankly, the two-hour flights were much more difficult for Carter than the 14-hour flights were.
We still came to dread travel days, but only because the immovable armrests on the airport benches wouldn’t allow us to lay down for a quick nap, whereas Carter got to sleep wherever and whenever he wanted.
“They’ll never remember the trip”
When we told others of our plans, we often heard, “But why? He won’t remember a thing.”
But Carter remembering our travels was never on our list of things to expect. Carter having a good experience was. We knew he would learn, grow, and evolve because of the firsthand exposure to the world, despite the fact that he wouldn’t perfectly recall that one time spider monkeys jumped on his head in Cape Town, South Africa. Besides, isn’t that what home videos are for?
It came down to this: We weren’t traveling for Carter, and we weren’t traveling for either of us. We were traveling because we knew travel was important to understanding the world around us, and we wanted our family legacy to be deeply rooted in exploring it. Had Emily and I not made it to Taiwan, we never would have dared each other to try stinky tofu, or even known something that awfully pungent (to us) existed. And while we probably won’t make our children eat stinky tofu anytime soon, we will be strongly encouraging them to seek out new experiences, to try things despite how scary or different they may seem at first.
Taking the trip was critical to instilling our family with the value of adventure we now hold so dearly. Because we traveled for 12 months with our young son, the thought of traveling for one month with multiple children now seems plausible, and I’m not sure it would have otherwise. Every member of our family, current and future, is much more empowered because we took this voyage.
“You’ll ruin your children”
This is by far the most damaging myth of all: that you’ll screw up your kids if you travel while they’re too young.
Carter is now almost four years old. He has a fantastic vocabulary, is learning two languages, and eats almost everything. He’s well-adjusted, even-tempered, curious, and adventurous. He thinks critically and is very, very happy. I’m getting excited about all the honor roll bumper stickers I’ll get to put on my car in the future.
Before we left, we were told by people near and far that traveling for a year would utterly ruin him. We were told we were risking his life, health, and behavior. We heard that we were horrible parents for forcing him with us on a trip we should have taken while childless.
But our trip was better because we had Carter with us.
Before we left, we didn’t realize how many people we’d get to know simply because they saw us with a baby strapped to our backs. The Pennys, a family we met in Brisbane, Australia, had a baby only a month younger than Carter. Emily met them while they were both breastfeeding, and for the next four weeks we spent time with them every few days. They even invited us to their Maori family dinner, where they happily shared their meal with us. We felt like a part of their family in a small way, and we still keep in touch. Carter opened doors like this all around the world.
We believe Carter is better off having had these experiences, too. He learned to crawl in New Zealand at eight months. He learned to walk in England at 11 months. He learned to speak in Ecuador at 15 months. He has an immune system that’s built like a tank, especially compared to our now 18-month-old daughter, who’s never left the U.S. and gets sick every time a cold goes around. He handles change extremely well and can sleep anywhere.
We know now that the experience you have while traveling has everything to do with creating a positive experience. We catered a lot of our activities and locations to the fact that Carter was a little guy — we weren’t exactly planning bungee jumping excursions (though Emily did go shark diving once). If you keep that in mind when you plan, you won’t ruin your children; in fact, you might just make them better people.
It’s true: Travel is great with or without kids. It gives you the chance to experience so many things that a book, film, or Wikipedia page just can’t do justice. Why wouldn’t you want to share that with your kin?
We think of our year of travel every single day. We have a picture book that Carter looks through every now and again, and he’ll point and say things like, “Remember when we went swimming there, Mom?” We know he doesn’t remember that moment in Costa Rica, that he’s just recalling a time we told him about. But we know that we were there, and that we’ll be there again someday, because we took the opportunity to travel big when we were told it was impossible, rash, and irresponsible. And that’s something no one — not even a barrage of angry Redditors — can take from us.