On her first road trip as a mum, RACHEL LEES discovers that holidaying with a baby on board isn’t quite what she had hoped it would be
After much careful planning — considering the best window between our seven-month-old son Lachie’s naps and feeds — we hotfoot it to the beach near our hotel, with a jumble of towels, baby carrier, nappy bag and cabana crammed into the car boot.
Despite a brief tussle with the wind, the cabana is assembled on the water’s edge. My husband and I sit and marvel at our feat, as Lachie wriggles his tiny toes in the sand. Then we lay on our towel and take a selfie, capturing a perfect moment in time.
Suddenly, Lachie is crying. The moment is over. We scramble to pack everything up and get back in the car so we can return to the hotel for his nap.
This is the moment I realise travel is not going to be the same again, at least not for some time. As a travel writer who used to average two international trips a month, the realisation is crushing. Call me naïve and optimistic, but I had been adamant that having a baby wouldn’t affect my globetrotting.
Road trip with baby to the NSW Central Coast
And yet, on our first family road trip to the NSW Central Coast, it’s already starting to feel impossible. Lachie cries for the entire two-hour car journey from home to the beachside resort, despite us ensuring he was well fed and ready for a nap before leaving. To say our nerves are frayed by the time we arrive is an understatement. We later figure out that we need to adjust his car seat as he’s had another growth spurt.
“Having a baby only gets in the way of travel if you let it!” say well-meaning child-free friends. “It gets easier, keep trying,” say parents who have trod the path before and survived. Like so much of child-raising, it’s the mental load that is perhaps the most overwhelming when you first hit the road with a baby in tow.
Have you considered the optimum time of day to travel? Packed everything you could possibly need? Know the store closest to your holiday rental, where you can restock if you run out of nappies or formula? Is the accommodation baby-proof and pram-friendly? How are you going to manage mealtimes in cafes and restaurants? And is there even time for sightseeing or relaxing in the endless feed-play-sleep loop?
Despite high anxiety as first-time parents, a stressful drive, and a thwarted beach visit, our first family holiday otherwise goes relatively well. We don’t try to do too much. We take it in turns to visit the restaurant and spa, so we can enjoy both experiences, even if we can’t do it together. And we follow the advice from our hotel, who recommend we get two adjoining rooms instead of one, so we can relax while our son sleeps. (One friend later tells me they put their baby’s travel cot in the shower of their hotel room, so they could at least watch a movie while their child slept).
Shoalhaven road trip
Our second road trip, to Shoalhaven, a month or so later, is a somewhat wonkier affair. We forget lessons gleaned the first time and leave home immediately after a nap. Lachie is wide awake and not happy about being in his car seat. The solution? We sing for the entire duration of the journey, and have to make several stops along the way for nappy changes and feeds because our timing is off.
For this trip, we choose a resort with self-contained beach villas, which include a kitchenette, so we can cook a few meals. But we forget to request one with a bath, so the kitchen sink is used to clean both the dishes and our child. It isn’t a huge deal, of course, but Lachie is going through a period of waking multiple times a night, and my husband and I have hit the ‘how-are-we-still-functioning?’ level of exhaustion.
In hindsight, this probably wasn’t the best time to take a trip. On our last morning, sensing a meltdown may be imminent – from me, not the baby – my husband offers to take him for a walk so I can have a few hours to myself.
That ever-elusive mum luxury, an unhurried shower, is finally within reach. Shortly after they leave, I strip naked and step under the hot water, and quickly feel the tension start to drain from my body. But wait, what’s that smell? Is something burning? Suddenly the silence is pierced by not one but three smoke alarms screeching in succession.
I grab a towel and run into the living area to find flames leaping from the stovetop; a baby bottle, now melted and charred, had been left to dry on the ceramic hotplate, which had accidentally been turned on. With the fire now out, I open the doors to clear the smoke and meet concerned looks from other holidaymakers. A sleep-deprived, half-showered, fire-fighting ball of anxiety was not the traveller I hoped to be as a parent. But they say it gets easier, so we’ll keep trying.