Before Charley, I was just another intrepid traveler with a series of Kayak alerts, a HotelTonight account, and a readiness to hit the road to check out that pop-up in Nashville, that boutique hotel in Palm Springs, and that something somewhere, anywhere. I had places to go, places I’d seen, and the Instagram account to prove it.
Then I found out I was pregnant. My husband was ecstatic; I was skeptical. I didn’t feel pregnant, I sure didn’t look pregnant, yet here I was, calling an airline, canceling an upcoming trip to Mexico (Zika virus), and quietly missing the margaritas I had dreamed of. Already, it seemed, my travel life was changing.
During my pregnancy, I traveled an inordinate amount, hoping to check off every item on my bucket list before the inevitable ground stop of the baby’s arrival. For our babymoon (a fashionable term for a couple’s last trip pre-baby), we decided to fly a staggering 6,239 miles from San Francisco to Rome, rent a Fiat, and plan nothing. We arrived in Italy with a very rough outline of what the next 12 days would entail. We took long drives along the Tuscan coast, indulged in three-hour lunches alfresco overlooking ancient hill towns, catnapped by the pool, and slept in. It was a trip we thought would be impossible—or at least no fun—with a baby.
Two months later, Charley was born, weighing in at nearly nine pounds, robust and healthy from my diet of caprese salad and Maremma beef. Overnight, our world changed. The thought of traveling around the corner, let alone around the world was daunting, and suddenly everything seemed precious. Those first few weeks at home, we lived in a bubble few could penetrate and time stood still. Charley slept in spurts, waking every few hours to feed, and I found it nearly impossible to imagine a life where a good night’s sleep meant anything more than a few cobbled-together hours. At an unspeakable hour of the night, I would troll Instagram, remembering a very different life, a very different time.
After a few weeks, the fog lifted. Charley began to sleep for longer stretches and to feed at more predictable times. We were still delirious and nowhere near rested, but we had settled into a routine, inching toward something loosely resembling an actual schedule. Suddenly the thought of going somewhere, anywhere, didn’t seem so impossible. A few quick weekend road trips left us feeling ready for air travel. I booked a flight to Hawaii for our first Thanksgiving as a family of three.
Charley was barely two months old when he boarded his first airplane. Despite my anxiety and endless Google searches for “flying with baby tips,” the flight was uneventful; he slept for the majority of it and we touched down feeling like our old selves again.
At nine weeks, I took Charley for his first passport photo, a rite of passage I was too sleep-deprived to appreciate but one that thrills me today. In just a few weeks, he’ll add a few stamps to that passport, traveling to Paris and journeying through Spain—all before his first birthday. Though this will be Charley’s first long-haul flight (10 hours, send wine!), he has already logged many hours on more than 30 flights. We’ve learned that he likes to board early and prefers an aisle seat. He takes great pride in greeting his fellow passengers as they board. Through the haze of it all, I love watching my son interact with strangers, stare wide-eyed at the magic of transit, and roll with the road’s many punches. He’s a baby, so he has his moments—and we pay the price when he gets jet-lagged or skips a nap—but somehow it all seems worth it.
I write Charley a postcard from every place we visit and keep them in an old cigar box on my desk. I flip through them occasionally, and I love reading about where we went, what we did, and who we saw. One day I’ll show them to him and I hope he’ll feel some distant recognition of these trips. He may not recall watching the sun sink into the horizon on the Big Island or the staggering wildness of the Canadian Rockies (his first snowflakes), but he was there. And I will never forget. When he’s older, I hope travel will still excite him and that he’ll feel that familiar need to go, to see, somewhere, anywhere.
So far, motherhood has been the trip of a lifetime, full of humbling moments and the most unexpected joys. It’s exhausting and, at its worst, I liken it to a severe case of jet lag. In many ways, all my travels have prepared me for it: Like being a traveler, being a parent requires a spirit of openness, the flexibility and grace to roll with it, and the good sense to laugh when it all goes wrong. When it’s difficult—when the flight is delayed by several hours, the hotel room isn’t ready, or the airline loses the luggage—I get to show my son that the world is big and beautiful, and it’s all there waiting for him. This September, as we celebrate his birthday under the Spanish sun, I will know that I’ve already given him the greatest gifts: a year of adventures, a passport of his own, and permission to always go.