One and a half years ago, when our daughter Lily was just about to turn one, my husband Brandon and I decided to do somethinga little crazy. We would take a year away from everything and travel the world, with Lily and our toy yorkie, Baron, in tow. Our itinerary would include Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. We’d traveled on our own for years before having Lily, so we felt comfortable with international travel. Still we’d never taken Lily outside the country, so we weren’t sure what to expect.
We started the European leg of our trip in Finland. Finland was beautiful, interesting, and incredibly child-friendly. Estonia was next up, followed by Italy. The first Italian destination, Capri, is the most baby-obsessed place I’ve ever been. I think Lily really thought her name had been changed to “bella bambina” for a few months. Our Italian adventure was made more special by our tenth wedding anniversary. We held a small vow renewal, and close family and friends flew in to celebrate with us. Italy is also where Lily started her great love affair with pasta. It’s now one of her favorite foods. Our next stop was Greece, followed by Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Serbia, and Romania. We met up with friends in Slovenia and Romania, which was the icing on the European cake.
From Europe we hopped to South Africa, where we spent a magical month in Cape Town. After a holiday visit to keep the grandparents happy, we flew down to the Caribbean. Our first stop, Cuba, was one of my absolute favorite travel experiences. The spirit of Cuba just creeps into your soul and stays with you. The people there are so warm and accommodating, particularly to young children. We next spent a relaxing two weeks in St. Maarten.
South America started with two months in our beloved Argentina. Buenos Aires was our home base. From there we traveled to Bariloche and Mendoza. Patagonia is more stunning than the photos, and Bariloche is its’ jewel. We were mesmerized by the beautiful landscapes, and Lily really appreciated the chocolate the region is famous for. Mendoza was malbec paradise, with some of the best food in Argentina (which is saying a lot). We also hopped next door to Uruguay, where we checked out the beach paradise of Punta del Este and the bustling city of Montevideo.
After a few days back home in Los Angeles (Lily needed to see her pediatrician), we started the Asia leg of our trip in the Philippines. We began in Manila, then traveled into the provinces of North Luzon. Hiking the ancient rice terraces with Lily strapped to me is an experience I will never forget. After a brief stop back in Manila, we traveled to Boracay, Cebu, and Bohol. Each had its charms, but we really fell in love with the sunsets in Boracay. From the Philippines we traveled to Vietnam. Our month flew by, with stops in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hoi Ann, Hue, Nha Trang, and Mui Ne. We also took a cruise to magical Ha Long Bay.
We hopped from Vietnam to Korea. Seoul was incredibly fun. It’s a huge city with a lot to see and plenty for little ones to do. We also traveled to Sokcho, Gyeongju, Busan, and Jeju. Korea as a whole is extremely family-oriented, so we were accommodated everywhere we went. From our base in Seoul, we also took short trips to Japan and China. In Japan, we went to Kyoto and Osaka. We met up with friends in Kyoto, some who had last met us there when I was pregnant with Lily. In Osaka, we ate our way through the town and got lost in the lights of Dotonbori. Brandon and I had always assumed that Lily didn’t care for beef…we found out she just has expensive taste. She devoured Kobe beef each time we ordered it. In China, we only had time for Shanghai. It wasn’t enough time, but the three of us were taken in by the sights, smells, and tastes.
Before heading home, we decided to do one more summer tour of Europe. We visited the Puglia region of Italy, and spent a beautiful month in Sicily. I’m still thinking about the food. We went back to Greece, adding the island of Kefalonia, and a quintessentially Greek week with our new friends and their gracious family outside of Thessaloniki. We also did Poland, Croatia, Bosnia, Austria, and Ukraine. Friends we’d made on our cruise in Vietnam invited us into their home in Switzerland, where we had the best time. Visiting Prague again was a given…it is one of our favorite cities, and Lily enjoyed all of the parks and opportunities to socialize. We celebrated her second birthday at at a train-themed restaurant there, thanks to the great suggestions from the Bebe Voyage Facebook community. We also had to go back to the Budapest wine festival, which had blown us away on our first visit.
We went from knowing a little about traveling with a small child to needing to know a lot, quickly. The biggest lesson I learned while traveling with a toddler is to just be flexible. Seeing how Lily adapted to new surroundings helped me relax and do the same. The best pre-trip gift we got was the GB Pockit stroller. It’s literally the world’s smallest stroller. It’s so tiny that most airlines allowed us to carry it on and put it in the overhead bin. I can’t recommend it enough.
I can divide our flying experiences into two parts: before two and after two. When Lily was a lap child, flying with her was relatively easy, especially since I was still nursing her during takeoff and landing. I’d always bring an array of activities and snacks to keep her entertained. We used our miles on most international flights to fly business or first, which helped tremendously. Of course, Lily always got to choose the movies. Flying after two was more challenging. Lily had gotten used to sitting with me, and she wasn’t excited about being the “big girl” who could sit in her own seat. I eased the transition with a combination of her favorite toys and activities, food (I fully admit replacing her normal healthy and organic snacks with chips and cookies), and her favorite TV shows. One bonus with most European airlines is that they have some sort of toy or activity for every child.
It’s true that all good things must come to an end, and we had bittersweet feelings about coming back to the States. I hope we continue traveling as long as we are able to, but there is a recognition that we are starting a new phase of our lives that will be centered around Lily and her school schedule. Overall, our trip was an experience I wouldn’t change for anything in the world. I see so much in Lily’s personality that I think is a direct result of our travels. She is open, friendly, social, kind, and genuinely cares about the people she encounters.
My husband and I recently discussed our “takeaways” from our experience. We agreed on the number one…people are generally good. Everyone wants the same things in life—to have their basic needs taken care of, for their families to be safe, and for their kids to do as well as they possibly can. I’m so glad we took this trip. If you’re considering taking a long haul trip with your child, please do…it’s worth the challenge.