Before Whoopsy was born I registered the Insta handle @backpackbaby. I dreamt of all the adventures we’d have around the world during my maternity leave. And how, when he started school, his Monday morning writing exercise would start “At the weekend I took a plane with mummy and daddy to a new city…” I would raise a globetrotter, a tiny traveller, a culture vulture. I would gift him the whole world.
In preparation for our first ever family holiday to Croatia, where we currently are, I diligently thought through all the things we would need (and all the things we wouldn’t although it killed me to leave his jumperoo – his favourite thing in the world – in the UK!). A Koo-di Bubble pop up cot weighing less than 2kg. A silicone pop up bowl for sterilising and sterilising tablets. Lightweight clothes that could be washed and dried overnight. A travel towel the size of a postage stamp that soaks up magical amounts of liquid. I was confident that I had this whole holiday with baby thing down. I could already see it. Whoopsy stretched out on the sand, fast asleep under a sun umbrella, whilst I read my book and sipped a cold glass of Pinot Grigio.
Here were all the things I was looking forward to: Lying in the sun getting a great honey tone tan. Adventuring to new, exciting parts of the world. Drinking excessive amounts of aperol spritz’ without worrying about the effect of a hangover the following day. Romantic late dinners and big fresh sheets to mess up. Not having any early morning commitments.
Now lets see how a child adds to these experiences. Can’t go near the sun, child will spontaneously combust when too warm. Adventuring requires an air of spontaneity and freedom, neither of which you have. That hangover will come back and haunt you. Romantic dinners that finish at 7pm and are held in child friendly restaurants (although you can certainly mess up the fresh sheets – a maid had to change ours at 10pm the other night because Whoopsy shat all over them…) And whilst you may not have any early morning commitments; baby has a total commitment to destroying your lie in for no purpose other than his own sadistic entertainment.
After five days in Croatia, a lot of which has been spent in our hotel room too fearful to leave, T and I decided to finally take the plunge and do some real sightseeing. We considered our options and booked a full day minibus tour of Montenegro. A mix of relaxing on the air conditioned bus with a sleeping baby and meandering around beautiful old towns – it would be a perfect way to balance caring for Whoopsy with our own desires to get out and see some of this beautiful place.
It didn’t start well when the minibus rolled in without a infant car seat. I considered, in that moment, cancelling the trip on safety grounds. But we had woken up at 6am, packed two full rucksacks and made five full bottles of milk. We felt committed and decided, foolishly, to push on. At 7.30am it was hard to feel just how pathetic the aircon was since it was still fairly cool. By midday it was clear that the aircon originated from the driver blowing into a tube every so often. Had the minibus been a mild temperature, I would have expected Whoopsy to be lulled to sleep by the movement and the engine noise. As it was, instead, a dusty sauna, he was not. Do you know what’s more fun than a tired baby? A tired, hot baby. A tired, hot baby that has to sit on your lap for seven hours because there is no car seat. A tired, hot baby that hasn’t pooped for three days so is constipated and uncomfortable. Every time he squeaked T and I would frantically pull another toy out of the bag or violently shove a putrid smelling bottle of milk in his mouth pleading with him to stay calm.
We’d been encouraging Whoopsy to poop as much as possible since it became apparent that he was constipated. Not egging him on like ‘Come on, lay a log for mummy…’ obviously, but cycling his legs and giving him a baby massage on his back and tummy to get things moving. Despite our efforts, he increasingly strained and writhed, but nothing materialised. Until, that is, he took one look around the cramped, airless minibus, plenty of people within smelling distance, and thought ‘This is my big moment!’
My sympathies really go to the other 12 people on the tour. Imagine boarding a tiny cramped minibus for a twelve hour drive and seeing a tiny baby. Oh, the horror. And most of them were so, so wonderful despite the obvious pain in their eyes. There was the Spaniard who held the packet of baby wipes whilst I cleaned up Whoopsy’s gigantic three-days-worth shit whilst he lay on my lap, flinging his sloppy legs around my white dress. Then there was a fabulous Indian woman who taught us how to calm a baby by distracting them with clicking fingers. And plenty of people politely looking in another direction, holding their sleeves to their noses, pretending another human being hadn’t just filled their personal space with the innards of their bowel.
It was, without doubt, one of the most stressful experiences of my life. So, holidays with babies. Turns out, not really holidays. Just normal life but hotter with half of the essentials that make childcare bearable. So here’s my key advice to holidaying with an infant. Leave it with the grandparents and change your Insta handle to @backhomebaby.