My wife and I met on our last round the world trip in 2011 on an icebreaker ship in the Antarctic Peninsula. We ended up traveling together for nine months, fell in love and promised to each other that if we ever had a child together, we’d do a round-the-world trip with our baby.
And as it happened, our little Sia arrived a few years later, in August of 2015.
Following through with our promise, we promptly planned a four-month trip for this year. It wasn’t hard: I’m a professional travel photographer and am always searching for unexplored destinations. Two months ago we started in Cartagena, Colombia, San Andres Island; then we moved on to Panama and the San Blas Islands. We then flew to Okinawa in Japan to visit the Karama Islands, then to Hokkaido in northern Japan to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site Shiretoko National Park on the border of Siberia. We then headed down to Hakodate to see the cherry blossoms and an incredible castle with 16,000 blossoming trees. We made a brief stop through Tokyo and continued on to the island of Vanuatu to see the spectacular land diving, the origin of bungee jumping. We then made our way through a few other islands in Vanuatu and a short flight to French territory New Caledonia and the Loyalty Islands, another secret paradise in the Pacific. From there we flew down to Polynesia to visit the island of Tikehau and the Tuamotu Islands, where we are right now.
Although the itinerary is extensive, we’ve found that traveling with a baby is much easier than we originally thought. Babies are door openers: no matter where we’ve been, with the Kuna Yala Indians in the San Blas Islands, local Japanese in Hokkaido or tribal women in Vanuatu, everyone jumps at the chance to hold a baby. She is still young enough that she can nap pretty much anywhere, which is a huge advantage with this type of trip. It allows us to be flexible with our plans, but also meeting her needs. She’s reaching her milestones in all of these different cultures. For example, she got her first tooth in Hokkaido and is learned how to swim in the South Pacific. Her playgrounds are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, airports and beaches. Her friends are local kids or fellow travelers’ children: we’ve adapted to her needs and she has adapted to being on the road with us. Along the way, our experiences have helped us form “golden rules” of sorts, that we refer to again and again as we and Sia continue our travels . . .
Don’t let fear be a factor in deciding to travel as a family. In particular, don’t be afraid to visit off-the-grid cultures — everyone loves babies, and the experience will be mutually joyful! People all around the world have children, so there is always a helping hand if you need it. We’ve had passengers on airplanes gladly babysit her during the flight. Most of the time, the experience with local people is better because babies are common ground for conversation.
Our favorite place so far has been in the southern part of the San Blas Islands, off the coast of Panama. Most of the people there had never seen an infant who wasn’t part of their tribe, so it was an anomaly having a baby this young come to visit them. People flocked around her, holding her and swinging in hammocks, singing songs. It was something I’ll never forget.
Prioritize planning and research — especially when it comes to your child’s well-being. We make sure that everywhere we go has medical facilities, that the climate isn’t too hot, and mosquitoes aren’t prevalent. It’s one of the reasons we are visiting French and New Zealand territories in the Pacific during the off-season.
The biggest challenge of traveling with an infant is that we have to be extra vigilant to ensure she’s in a happy, healthy space. It’s no longer just my wife and I — we’re responsible for this little person now. After two months of being on the road, we’ve learned how to preempt her needs a bit better, but we’re lucky she has a good temperament and doesn’t mind being passed from hand to hand often.
Pack light! Babies really don’t need much to thrive. With all the airline requirements, you learn to live with less, but it works for us. We all use the same bottle of Dr. Bonner’s soap; Sia has about five pieces of clothing, but is perfectly happy in them. Some essentials to keep in mind: a medical kit (we’ve been fortunate not to have needed it yet), sun protection (sunscreen, hat, SPF sunsuit), and baby-friendly mosquito repellant. Skin sensitivity is the main thing we’ve noticed when it comes to Sia — and keeping her happy and healthy means we’ll have a better time, too!
As a photographer, I have to consider the pace of travel now. Everything isn’t as streamlined as one would like, and it’s harder to get everyone up and going in the morning, when that’s where some of the best light is. On the other hand, if you need photos of babies, you’ve always got one on-hand.
We would like to think that by traveling now, Sia is getting a head start to global citizenship, and she’ll be more open to other cultures and people as she grows up in the world. And what’s more, we’re seeing her thrive out here — which is huge validation that this is a positive experience.