We left Seattle on March 23rd, spent time visiting friends and family in the Midwest in April, then started our Baby Abroad trip on May 1, flying to Mexico City. Since May 1 we’ve been to several cities in Mexico, including Mexico City, Toluca, San Miguel de Allende, Saltillo, Queretaro and Cancun. Then July 1 we flew to Spain to spend two days in Madrid, followed up by two days in Geneva, Switzerland, and here I am sitting on our balcony in Les Houches, France, with a view of Mont Blanc and the French Alps on a gorgeous summer evening. We’ve been in France since July 6 and it’s now July 28, so 3 weeks into our time in France, with about a month left here, followed by several more cities around Europe before heading back to the states the beginning of October.
Oh yes, and we have a near 8 month old in tow with us, Paavo. While it seems like I have no time at all to get stuff done (I consider it a success if I’ve showered and brushed my teeth before noon), I also feel like I have a lot of time to think about what I think about this baby abroad lifestyle. Do I like it? Do I want to keep doing it? Is it what’s best for Paavo? All day, questions run through my mind and I think about the pros and cons of this lifestyle, so I wanted to share some of those thoughts.
First, because Matt’s an Optimist, the Pros:
Traveling the World – Duh, this one’s a no brainer. Of course seeing the French Alps in summer is a pro, as is going to the Berlin marathon, one of the biggest, most competitive ones (Kenenisa Bekele is running it this year, one of our favorite runners), and lounging poolside in Cancun ain’t so bad. Alright, alright, this is a BIG pro because seeing so many different cities, eating so many different foods, and experiencing so many different cultures is just awesome. And addictive; it’s why we keep traveling, even with a baby in tow, which makes it all the cooler and all the harder (Jet lag with an infant, anyone? Yeah, it was hell for 2 weeks).
Not sitting behind a desk – Another no brainer, at least for me. I have yet to find a desk job that I can get passionate about and want to do long term. There are just so many other things I’d rather be doing than dealing with office politics, opening up an inbox with hundreds of new emails each day, attending unnecessary meetings that could have been solved with an email (of course piled on top of all those other emails), and sitting on my bum for 8-10 hours a day. I’ve only minimally paid my dues to the office gods, having worked admin type jobs on and off since 2003, but never one for more than 3 years, and I hope to put off another one for as long as possible. It’s an amazing feeling to not really care what day it is, because there are no Sunday blues, no crappy Mondays, no looking forward to Fridays. There are just days to fill with Matt and Paavo in different places in the world, and that is a beautiful thing.
Limited Stuff – As I detailed in my Baby Abroad Travel Gear post, we each have a backpack of belongings, a diaper bag, and Paavo’s crib. It is so liberating on our travel days to not be weighed down by lots of stuff, especially since we often take public transportation to and from airports. We’re looking forward to tweaking our travel kit along the way to get even more minimal.
Baby is limited – Paavo can’t crawl yet, though he’s close, and won’t be walking for a while, so he’s easy to transport. We just have a carrier for him rather than a stroller, since he’s small, though that might change once we’re back in the States. He flies for free until he’s 2, so we may as well take advantage of that while we can, and while he won’t remember this time, we will, so we may as well spend it in some cool places so we can show him later. Also, because he’s so little, so is his clothing, so he packs light! In some ways traveling with an infant is easier than a toddler or older (not that we actually know what it’s like to travel with anything else, but this is what people have told us).
Next, because I’m not the Optimist, the Cons:
Now that we’ve painted a pretty picture of the baby abroad lifestyle, on to the cons. Maybe this is just me being a pessimist, but there are certainly downsides, and ones we hadn’t really considered before, as we’ve never had to travel with a baby!
Isolation – We miss our friends, our family, and just people in general. Our little family unit of 3 gets along just fine, but we do wish we had more people to be around. We’ve been alone since May 1, so going on 3 months, and are just itching for more company. I wish Paavo had more babies and kids to be around and I wish I had Seattle friends to run with. We have friends visiting us here in France from mid-August and onward, so we’ll be around people very soon, but overall, it’s been a little lonely for everyone. In the future, we’re going to tweak our lifestyle so that we’re not going for such long stretches without seeing friends or family.
Limited stuff – I have a cotton, hooded sweatshirt and a pair of Adidas sweatpants in our storage closet in Seattle that I LOVE putting on in the evening after a long day. I miss them, as they are obviously not in my travel kit, considering they’d take up half my bag. I miss some of our stuff. While it’s great we’re down to so little, I also wish we could have an apartment full of our own things, a closet full of clothes, and a kitchen full of appliances, spices, and ingredients. It’s the same with thru-hiking; we carry so little and repeat using all the same items that by the end of a thru-hike I just want variety and quantity back in my life. We go back and forth of wanting stuff and not wanting stuff, so I imagine this pro/con relationship with stuff will never end.
Ruled by a nap schedule – While I love Paavo’s naps, as it means I get a break for just a little slice of time to either nap myself, work on my to-do list, or run, they are also a deterrent to exploring a new place. He can’t stay awake for much more than 2 hours in the morning before his morning nap, and he barely can make it more than 3 hours in the afternoon before his afternoon nap, and then bedtime is between 7-7:30. It’s hard to go anywhere when the need for sleep is imminent nearly all the time, and so our radius of exploration is often small. If he doesn’t nap or sleep, he is just miserable to deal with, so skipping a nap is not an option. It’s something we didn’t even consider before traveling but which has greatly affected how we see places, which is in small spurts and close to home base. While I’ll be sad when he drops down to just one nap or none, because I’ll lose that free time, I’ll also feel a bit more free to leave the house for longer than an hour.
Is it worth it?
So there they are, the pros and cons, as I’ve seen them so far. Weighing the pros with the cons, is the baby abroad lifestyle worth it? For me, the jury is still out. The isolation and loneliness has worn me down lately, and the lack of sleep has been miserable. Paavo isn’t even close to sleeping through the night and most nights still wakes up every 2-3 hours to either be consoled or to eat. I can’t help but wonder if the travel lifestyle has affected his sleep; if we’d stayed in more of a rhythm in Seattle, would he be sleeping better? I have friends whose babies have slept at least 6 hours at night since 2 months and I have friends (all of whom don’t travel) whose babies took 1-2 years to sleep through the night, so I don’t think travel can always be blamed for bad sleepers. I’ll never really know if it’s just how Paavo is wired or if it’s the traveling, as we don’t have any near-future plans to stop traveling, so I’m just going to have to ride out this sleep deprivation thing and hope time eventually takes care of his sleep. If I could have the best of both worlds, I’d spend 6 months a year in Seattle (not behind a desk though, obvi) and 6 months traveling, but making sure that within those travels there is time scheduled with friends and family, either in the States or abroad.
The other factor here is that Paavo is growing and changing so fast, often faster than we can keep up, so tweaking our travel lifestyle will have to be a bit more forward-thinking, meaning that as we plan for 2017, we have to think about what’s good for a 1-2 year old kid to be learning/developing/playing. Any thoughts/suggestions? Thanks for reading and if you’re included in our upcoming travel plans, know that I am super excited to see you very soon!