My son is 8 months old. He has been on 15 airplanes, has four foreign stamps in his passport, and learned to crawl during a layover in the Singapore airport. In a previous column, I lamented the decline of the anti-schlepper adventurer in me. I’m happy to write my lament was greatly exaggerated. The parental learning curve is steep, and I bring good news from the other side: It turns out that it is possible to travel for three weeks with a baby and a bit of carry-on luggage.
It takes some advance planning. Felix the infant has given way to a grabby, giggly, gleeful Felix. In turn, we formerly sleep-deprived parents have become the Energizer Bunny parents in our efforts to keep our increasingly busy baby entertained on long flights.
It doesn’t mean we bring more toys (you can make playthings out of many everyday items, including partially filled water bottles that roll unpredictably) or gear (you can rent pretty much anything – from car seats to cribs – with a little reconnaissance beforehand). Now that Felix can hold his head up, we have graduated to an umbrella stroller that folds in a snap and can be carried in one hand. And we walk or use public transport whenever possible.
For a recent red-eye journey to Indonesia – 24 hours and three planes – we requested bulkhead seats with a bassinet, crucial for a place to put a sleeping baby, and space to put a crawling baby. When Felix got too fidgety in our arms, we threw down a blanket and let him get some exercise.
We discovered the joys of flying with Japan Airlines, whose flight attendants are marvelously helpful, and the hilarity of trying to feed Felix oatmeal or blueberries in transit (yes, this is our mustachioed son, and sorry about that flying bit of fruit). “Kawaii!’’ exclaimed the ticket agents at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport as they crouched down to smile at him. The entertainment value of racing a squealing, delighted Felix in an umbrella stroller through the airport, legs kicking and arms waving, cannot be discounted.
And we discovered the fun of introducing Felix to other babies and children while traveling. We sat next to a 3-year-old on the way to Bali. (Little girl, solemn and sweet: “Konichiwa.’’ Felix, arms flapping and excited: “Eeeeeeee!’’) Children on the street in Sanur followed him with big-eyed interest, and their parents inquired after his age, weight, activity level. It was a nice ice-breaker, an instant topic of conversation to cross cultures.
People in Indonesia dazzled us with their love for babies – wherever we ate, there were eager waitstaff beckoning with open arms to hold Felix so that we had hands free to enjoy our meals. My favorite restaurant experience was at the lovely Minami restaurant in Ubud, where delicate courses of Tasmanian salmon sashimi and small bowls of chewy noodles in broth topped with hand-ground sesame were exquisitely presented – all while a charming and exceptionally muscular young waiter clad in a sarong sang to Felix and showed him the courtyard’s gurgling fountain and hanging fruit trees.
At the InterContinental Hotel in Hong Kong, we sipped afternoon tea alongside floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Victoria Harbor and the city skyline, as Felix made a beeline on all fours for the tea-cake towers (the staff kindly offered to whip up a blueberry-banana smoothie each day for his dining pleasure). From our room at night, he watched the evening light show play over the skyscrapers across the water, and tracked pleasure boats and barges plying the waterways. It was here that my father, who lives in nearby Guangzhou, met his grandson for the first time.
We walked with Felix along the Kowloon pedestrian waterfront, and took him to get soup dumplings and wonton noodles. He accompanied us while we got measured for custom-made shirts and pants at a nearby tailor. And he came along to Kowloon Park, where colorful macaws and cockatoos called from the aviary and men stood around park benches playing card games. Along the way, he made eyes at fellow elevator passengers, shopkeepers, and elderly women (who responded with gap-toothed grins).
The best distraction for our baby, it turns out, is people – of all shapes and sizes, all languages, all ages, all around the world. Everyone speaks the language of laughter. It’s what we want to teachour son, to feel comfortable with people wherever we may go, from Singapore to Switzerland. And we are happy, and lucky, to be the ones to take him there.