Traveling With a Baby is Hard —
My friend Craigy at Travelvice.com warned me that traveling with an infant was challenging. He gave me an open picture of the road ahead, he vividly described the rounds that moving about the world with a little person would put me through. Though I must laugh at his warnings now, I must say that they were all gross understatements.
Traveling with a baby is hard.
Traveling with an infant is quickly becoming the most challenging thing that I have ever done, this road is so full of scree and boulders and thick vegetation that it is often difficult to see the path — and we have barely even taken off yet. But what else could I expect?
Of course traveling with a baby is hard, dummy, why do you think people don’t do it! Do you think you are better or more equipped than everybody else, you arrogant turd!?!
There was a misunderstanding between my wife and I. We agreed to travel slowly back across the USA. By “slowly” I thought we meant stopping the car for an hour or two whenever Petra would get angry, and not leave again until she was sufficiently calmed down. By “slowly” my wife thought that we would stop off and visit all kinds of places and stay in hotels.
I like visiting all kinds of places, but, in a country as expensive as the USA in the cold of winter, doing so means shelling out lots of $$$$. I worked hard to save up a good bundle of travel funds for my family to migrate through the next year, I cringe at the thought of watching over $100 slip by each day. I had no plan of ever staying in a hotel on the drive back across the USA unless it was absolutely necessary. My wife had other plans.
It is friggin’ cold in New Mexico in the winter — way below freezing — sleeping outside with Petra is not an option. When she gets cold, she lets us know; when she gets cold, she gets pissed. So we planned on staying with friends on our drive across the country. Friends in Palominas, Arizona, Santa Fe, New Mexico, and St.Louis all offered to take us in for a few nights each. The gaps between these places are wide: 8 to 12 hours each. Though I still believed that we could connect the dots across the country and bounce from friend to friend until we arrive at my parent’s house near Rochester, New York. I thought wrong.
After driving three or four hours from Jerome to Tucson, Arizona, Petra woke up. She realized that she had been stuffed inside and locked up in a car seat for the entire day. She wanted out, she wanted to move, she wanted to crash for the night and hang out, gurgle, spit up, and fart.
I wanted to push on for another two hours to the home of a friend. It would have cost half a hundred dollars to stay in Tucson for the night, staying with friends would be free. Two hours more to the Mexican border and free accommodation.
We pulled over in a hotel parking lot just past Tucson for a rest. Petra wailed. Chaya tried to calm her. I cringed.
I got on the WIFI in the parking lot of the hotel and found the phone number of the Road Runner Hostel. $40 for a private room for the night. It was 6PM and the sun was fast on its decline. Petra continued wailing, Chaya and I argued about getting a room. I wanted to save the money, Chaya just wanted Petra to stop crying.
“Lets wait a minute for her to calm down, I will take her for a walk.”
But it was I who took the walk. Chaya looked at me with scorn, “Look at your daughter!” she spoke.
My daughter was crying bloody friggin’ murder. I went for a walk. My hat blew off my head. I chased it in the wind. I returned to the car.
“Ok, lets just stay in at the hostel, it is alright,” I gave in.
“No, lets keep going,” my wife gave in, too.
We were again at an impasse, although our sides were flipped. Petra had nursed and was calming down, but I would not be deterred. “No, lets just stay in Tucson and get an early start tomorrow.”
“No, lets go! Petra is OK now, lets get there tonight.”
We went. In two hours we were down on the Mexican border with friends. Petra slept. We made the right choice.
On the road, Palominas, Arizona to New Mexico
I get mad. I blew it. Four possible stories gone because of indecision, passive action (there is always tomorrow), me. I have not yet developed a strategy for traveling with a family and being a traveling writer. I get mad. I blew it. Four possible stories gone.
I had four main topics for stories that I wanted to investigate in Arizona. None of them came to fruition. I am driving through the Arizona desert towards Douglas, the last stop in the state traveling east. I am leaving the West, I did not do what I set out to do. I blew it. My wife Chaya gives me an outlet for getting out my madness simply by being present in the backseat of the car.
I get us lost.
“I think that we should turn around,” Chaya suggests sweetly. We were driving way out into the desert on a narrow road that did not appear to be the main route that we intended to travel on. It wasn’t.
“I don’t give a shit,” I snarl. I am mad. I blew it.
“Really, we should turn around,” my wife urges.
“No f’cking way.” The road peters out into a dirt trail.
I turn around.
We stop at a gas station, and I wait for the car to fill up with gas. My wife steps out to comfort me. She knows that I am upset about something, she doesn’t know that I blew it.
“I thought we were on vacation,” my wife rubs my arm.
“Vacation means writing,” I again snarl. I had just finished up six months of formal work in which writing was forced into the lee moments of the day. I ran out of time to write deeply about my surroundings. I did not sing the song of the West, I failed to sing the song of America. The tick, tick of the clock left too few open hours for investigation, inquiry, discovery. I tried to work two full time jobs and one of them needed to get squeezed into the spare cracks — it happened to be the one that I love most but make the least money from.
I need more money now than I ever have before. My baggage is heavier now than it has ever been before. I shoot for tripling my output. It is unrealistic. I get mad. I blew it.
I feel better after yelling at my wife. She, amazingly, understands.
Silver City, New Mexico
“We are going to spend this money on hotels anyway!” Chaya roared
“But we can either spend it on one night in a hotel in the USA or ten hotels abroad!” I roared, too.
We were again arguing about whether to stay or go. Again, we had friends a few hours away, but Petra was car worn and everyone was beat. The dangling carrot of a free space to stay and good friends to visit laid on the lee side of a 200 mile ride, but a comfortable night of rest in a warm hotel was right in front of us.
Again, the issue was money. I did not want to stay in a hotel when we only had a few more hours to drive. But we had already traveled for hundreds of miles over the past 7 hours. Poor Petra was still riding in her car seat cage, I was driving on towards Santa Fe. The weather was freezing. Petra awoke.
Bloody friggin’ murder revisited.
Chaya stood in her baby’s corner and joined in on the refrain. I was outnumbered.
What sort of vagabond is going to drop $50 on one night of accommodation?
One with a baby.
I turned the car around and bitched and whined the entire way back to the hotel. Chaya got really mad at my bitching and whining. “Lets go! Lets just f’cking go! if that is what you want to do so bad!”
I returned to the hotel. I knew that it was the best thing to do. But, apparently, I could not lay down my arms without a sufficient amount of bitching and whining.
I dropped $50 on a hotel room, and my family had a warm place to sleep.
“We fight all the time,” Chaya spoke with sadness once in the room.
“We are married, that is what we are suppose to do.”
Chaya sat hugging Petra on the bed, still mad and ignoring me. I went to the hotel bar and drank $1.50 beers. Typical.
(don’t worry, we made up)
I write this travelogue entry in the name of honesty. The main pitfall of “on the table” travel writing is that it often portrays traveling as a honky dory occupation of hedonistic escape and all out enjoyment. Travel is not like this. Travel sucks (sometimes).
I write of my successes, my failures, the high roads and low roads of traveling the world. Traveling with an infant is often enjoyable — very enjoyable — but it is also hard, very hard. As we are traveling with Petra now, in the USA, on the budget that we have, I cannot recommend this to anyone. If you have a million dollars you can travel anywhere without problem, without trial, without excitement.
Vagabonding across the USA in a Subaru presents the proper trials for excitement — even if that excitement is created from my own backhanded moods.
The challenges of traveling with an infant go way beyond the simple acknowledgment that my travel expenses are now way higher than they have ever been before, it is the acknowledgment that I am no longer the sole decider of my destiny. A little person now has a say in what we do, a wife now tells me what the little person wants to do, I must make these travels comfortable enough not only for myself but for a baby.
Petra DEMANDS the attention of at least one parent at all times that she is awake. 50% attention will not do, she will yell; 95% attention will not do either, she will squirm and grunt. 100% attention of at least one parent is taken up while Petra is awake — that is around 12 hours a day. All eyes and both hands must be on Petra, or she is not happy.
And if the baby is not happy nobody is happy.
I am now ruled by a mini tyrant. A very cute mini tyrant.
I can not just travel around, talk with people, take notes, shoot photographs, and then return to a flop house room and write travelogue entries all night long any more. I must take care of Petra first, make sure Chaya is happy, and then work on Vagabond Journey.com. I must be clever to create computer time, I must use this time cleverly if I wish for the plot to remain the same.
Petra does well, really well. She is a traveling baby, it is possible to travel with her. 300 miles in a car seat cage scarcely even phases her, she sleeps well at night, her fits are rarely uncontrollable, she makes a good house guest. I am a lucky traveler.
But I need to tilt my perception, take on a new view of traveling through the world, change my angle, open up a new book. I am doing this now, I am learning. It is difficult to realize that $30 a day is now my minimal average expense while traveling. It is difficult to realize that my little baby now determines the course of my days, the path that I travel on.
Sometimes I do not want to do it anymore — I was not made for this, I tell myself — I have to get out of here. I look at flight prices for a single traveler.
But these flights of inquiry are never more than a passing wind.
“We are on the same team,” my wife spoke.
We are. There is no way that I am going to shake this woman. As I bounce Petra on my knee and watch her crack a drooly toothless smile while wearing the mismatching green outfit that I put her in myself, I know that the joys of traveling with a family is worth every bit the extra expense.
The joys of traveling with a family are far greater than the challenges. Sometimes, it is the blood that you shed along the way which determines the value of a journey.
This anthem probably holds true for babies as well.
As Chaya spoke, “If Petra could talk, she would say that traveling with parents is hard.”
Read more about traveling with a baby on Vagabond Journey.com