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Dominican Concern for Traveling Baby

Sosua, Dominican Republic- I often go for walk into the countryside outside of Sosua, in the Dominican Republic, with my six month old baby, Petra. The sun shines perennially here, it is a little hot. Thus being, the local people occasionally show concern for Petra when out on our hikes. It is good hearted, honest [...]

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Sosua, Dominican Republic- I often go for walk into the countryside outside of Sosua, in the Dominican Republic, with my six month old baby, Petra. The sun shines perennially here, it is a little hot. Thus being, the local people occasionally show concern for Petra when out on our hikes.

It is good hearted, honest concern, and it makes me smile to know that the people around — most complete strangers — care enough to provide me with advice and words of warning.

Petra is alright out walking in the sun and heat: she wears sun block and a sun hat that protects her face. She smiles a lot and seems to enjoy hiking. I know she is alright and explain it to the people who voice their concern.

People from the Dominican Republic with Petra

Though I am interested to see how these types of interactions will play themselves out as we travel, as we have closer contact with the people in the countries that we visit.

One of the aspects of traveling internationally with a baby that I predict could come to potentially rough patches is when my methods of raising my child do not blend in well with that of the culture I am traveling through. More specifically, people thinking that I am not properly caring for my child because I do not do so along the lines of the way they do it.

The cultural lines when it comes to raising a child anywhere in the world are thick. Everybody who has ever had a child seems to think they know the best way to do everything for it. The annoying part is that they often do not hesitate to tell you so. Even in the USA, our home country, we received so much contradictory, though strongly stated, advice in child rearing that I have no idea how any person with their first baby could think that they are not killing the damn thing daily.

Every parent seems to think that every other parent lacks their own parental flourish, and needs to be instructed otherwise.

This is OK to handle in the USA — a country whose cultural traditions are scattered and individualized to the near point of incontiguity. But in other regions of the planet, the places where similar cultural practices extend across entire villages, regions, and countries — the places where people have been raising children the same way for multiple generations — how will people in these places react to our style of parenting?

How will they react if we are in their homes caring for Petra in a way different from how they raise their child?How will they react when they see us out with Petra doing something that they would not do with their baby?

We will soon find out. The deeper we get into traveling with our baby, the thicker the vegetation on both sides of the path closes in — the more interesting travel becomes.


In the Dominican Republic babies seem to be kept in doors whenever possible. We have rarely seen babies out in the streets just hanging out, they are either in hasty transport, or in a home. We have met many babies — many around Petra’s age — in the doorways of people’s homes, we have not met many babies in the streets out seeing the world.

Except for Petra. Petra likes to walk, she gets pissed off if cooped up in a room for too long — she begins to squeal and squirm until somebody takes her outside. She likes to rip leaves off of trees, play on the beach, stick her feet in the surf, and laugh like a miniature lunatic whenever she sees an animal. She would be one angry baby if we were to stick her indoors, where the Dominican babies seem to be kept.


We were talking to a family on a street corner of Sosua a few days ago. They were an adult couple with a twenty something year old daughter. I have seen their daughter around places, and we now got to meet her parents. They held Petra and laughed and talked to her in the standard high pitched voices reserved for babies all over the world.

Petra reached for one of their ice cream cones. The ladies took this as an indication that she was thirsty and needed to drink some water. They were insistent.

“Your baby is thirsty, she needs water.”

My wife felt a little trampled upon by this otherwise genuinely good natured advice, she felt as though the women thought that she was not being a good mother.

We don’t give Petra water. She just breastfeeds when thirsty. This is how we do it in our culture — this is apparently different than in the Dominican Republic.


Wade and Petra on the beach of the Dominican Republic

I was walking down the road past a convenient store in the outskirts of Sosua. I said hello to the young men sitting out in front of the store hanging out. They smiled at Petra.

I was around a half kilometer away from the store when I heard footsteps approaching behind me. They were moving at a faster pace than I was, so I glance behind me. It was a boy around 9 years old. I stepped off to the side to allow him to pass. He stopped walking too.

He stared for a moment at Petra.

Petra stared at him.

He poked her in the side.

What the f’ck?

I pulled Petra away.

He produced a bag of drinking water and held it up toward Petra. She reached out and grabbed it. The boy smiled at her for a moment, and then ran away.

Bag of drinking water in the Dominican Republic


Today I was out wandering in a similar area with Petra. There are some small farming plots, banana trees, and cows out this way, and not too many people walking. It is not a deserted area, there is just a little more space than in town.

A ragged looking man crosses over to my side of the road. He is walking very slow, dragging his feet. His clothes are dirty, he is very unkempt. His skin appeared even darker for all the crud that was on it, and his fuzzy hair had bits of stuff stuck in it. I think his fly was down. He was around his mid thirties and seemed a little hung over. I approach him from behind, and he turns around to look at me. He begins to speak.


But his words were not those of a derelict, they were those of concern. He was worried that the sun was too hot for Petra. He pointed up at the sun and said that it was not good for the baby.

I assured him otherwise.


Petra with group of Dominicans

In travel, sometimes I need to adjust my behavior to fit between the parameters of my surroundings. Sometimes I need to do things a little differently than I normally would to ease my way through the tight turns of a culture. This is part of the challenge of traveling — it is what makes moving about the planet so interesting: not everybody is the same as I am.

This is good — I need to identify myself, identify others, and try to figure out how to make our differences run flush together.

I am not talking about trying to exchange my culture for that of another, but finding strategies for blending my culture in with that of the country I am traveling in so that the path ahead is not full of jagged stones and brick walls.

Usually, all you need is a standard set of manners.

But when it comes to caring for a baby, something that is at the heart of every culture, I foresee bumps on the road ahead. The closer contact I have with a culture, the more I need to adapt my ways to fit the parameters of my circumstance, with a baby does this mean altering my parenting style?

On the one hand:

I don’t want to budge when it comes to caring for Petra.

Petra is an American baby born to American parents. We are going to raise her under the auspices of our upbringing. This is what we know, this approach is no different than for anybody else in this world.

On the other hand:

It would be interesting to really learn about how other people raise their children, to blend their ways in with our own, to learn about what works and what doesn’t. To try new strategies, tactics, and figure out how other people raise their children, using my own child as the medium for instruction.

The solution will probably flow between both of these extremes.

Read more on traveling with a baby
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Filed under: Caribbean, Culture and Society, Dominican Republic, Petra Hendele Adara Shepard, Travel With Family

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3703 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

10 comments… add one

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  • Mike Crosby February 18, 2010, 11:29 am

    Sometimes we just like to communicate. And a baby gives a that chance. Sure we should mind our own business, but telling you what’s best for Petra gives us a chance to speak. And more opportunities to judge you.

    Petra can be both good and bad. Bad in that everyone wants to tell you how to raise her. But good, in that I’ve seen lots of pictures of others befriending you via Petra.

    There’s no questions babies are magnets giving people a chance to come together.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 19, 2010, 10:15 am

      Hello Mike,

      Correct, a lot of times people want to talk to other people but they need to find a basis for conversation first. Having something in common with someone is the prime “in” to meeting someone.

      There is nothing more “in common” with the largest number of people on the planet than raising a child.

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  • wife mom maniac February 18, 2010, 11:39 am

    Ya know, I was just coming here after reading your recent twittered link to that travel blog interview, and I was going to ask if you would write about different parenting styles you encounter on your travels, since you’ll notice them now, but seems that’s naturally whaT will happen here 🙂 YOu probably could write a well selling book on the subject, parenting books are big! A friend who travelled extensively in India told me that people who travel as “families” are often given much more respect in strong family oriented cultures, and are welcomed more warmly in many communities, are you finding that?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 19, 2010, 10:14 am

      Wife Mom Maniac,

      Having a baby and family is the ultimate in with a culture. We are now treated as a mature family rather than a couple of traveling derelicts haha. It has been really interesting.

      Figuring out the child raising processes of the cultures I travel to is now really on the table. It is interesting to observe. People look at Petra and then they go and get their own babies haha.

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  • fruugal February 18, 2010, 4:23 pm

    Wonderful blog, wonderful pictures!

    No one in their right mind could lay claim to the idea that Petra is anything but bursting with health. You and Chaya are excelling at caring for her on the (vagabond) road.

    Good manners will take you far in any country as you respond to people showing genuine concern for your child. And best of all, Petra is being exposed to so many different cultures.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 19, 2010, 10:11 am

      Thank you Fruugal,

      It is interesting to watch Petra meet new people and hear new languages and customs. She is at the forefront of it all, as the people interact with here first, and me and Chaya second haha.

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  • Bob L February 19, 2010, 12:09 pm

    Would love to have you write about conversations with the locals about their beliefs about baby raising. Since they seem to have strong feelings about it, I am sure they would be willing to talk and give a man advice. I wonder, do men spend much time with their babies where you are, and where you are going? I wonder if Chaya would get the same attention?

    Bob L

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 22, 2010, 7:44 pm

      Hello Bob,

      I would love to have conversations with people about their beliefs on baby raising, but this is a little difficult of a question to ask verbally. Child rearing is like white rice to the people who do it — it is difficult to ask questions about that which is completely normal and ordinary to the point of being done without thought.

      I think it is really difficult for people to speak about their cultures. When I start talking about USA culture, I often realize half way through that I am saying what I want the person to believe rather than what is true. To be honest, my culture is like white rice to me — it is normal beyond the point of being able to speak about it. Though I did try to investigate it more during my last run across the USA. I think I am only now beginning to understand my culture a little.

      So to get back to your questions, a lot of determining the child rearing methods of people while traveling just has to be done through observation, though it seems like child raising is a very woman centric activity. They men do men things and the women do women things. It is not very common to even see husbands and wives together in public.

      I think Chaya gets a similar about of attention as I do when walking around with Petra. Only it is a different sort of attention. The women are very interested in meeting her, whereas they often just ask me where the mama is haha.

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  • Caitlin February 21, 2010, 8:41 pm

    Hi Wade,

    Great post! I agree with the first commenter. Sure, it must be annoying to have people tell you how to raise their child (I get annoyed enough at the old “you’re 26? Why aren’t you married yet?” routine.) But man, it seems like Petra opens up so many new possibilities to connect with people as you travel. (Great gimmick, having a baby. Ha ha ha.)

    Anyways, I love the photos of dominican people holding Petra. They are priceless.


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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com February 22, 2010, 8:10 pm

      Hello Caitlin,

      You are correct, having a baby is a great gimmick to meet people. It seems as though often when traveling the people around you want to talk and meet you (if you are in a place where they are not curious in you at all then you better get moving on haha) and having a baby shows that we have something in common: most adults in the world have children, it is a normal thing to do. So by showing them Petra we are giving the impetus to talk about other things.

      All so often conversations are started over a simple thing that you have in common with someone. It is very difficult to start a friendship with someone where there is no basis for a mutually intelligible conversation.



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