Last week was a really important week for me. We took Maddie on holiday for the first time to Berlin. It was important for a few reasons. One, because it was pretty much the same type of holiday we would have booked before having a baby, and I wanted to see how she fit into that, but mostly because I really want travel to be a part of her life from the offset.
It is incredibly important to me that travel remains a part of my life as a mum, and more so becomes a very normal thing for Maddie to experience. I didn’t travel by plane until I was 12 years old, and by then I was old enough to be a bit scared of the experience. I want flying to come naturally to Mads, and for her to feel as though immersing yourself in unfamiliar surroundings and cultures is something to embrace.
So to get to it, the trip was a success. I mean, it was freezing and rained most of the time, and that did impact on our moods and what we could do with our time a bit, but in terms of travelling with a baby – no problem. She didn’t register that flying was anything besides jumping up and down on mummy and daddy’s knees for a bit on the way there, making friends with the story-reading dad on the row behind us and playing happily with the toys we’d brought along. On the way home she slept the entire journey, take off and landing included (planes = amazing quality white noise).
I really wish I’d taken a photo of our hotel room. We co-sleep at home and the rather dubious ‘double’ bed wasn’t allowing this easily, so we shifted the mattress onto the floor, making it the same height as the bed base, which in itself was a built in mattress (these beds are really common in Europe, and they’re brilliant for getting double the number of people into a room if you’re feeling sneaky). The entire room was mattress, which Maddie obviously loved, and it meant she could roam about wherever without hurting herself, and we had the biggest bed we’d ever seen (by 2am we were all huddled onto a patch more suitably sized for caged hens, naturally, but the space was there if we’d wanted it).
I still can’t get over how successful the trip was. Sure, where we might have once stayed out much later at night, enjoying a few drinks, this time we were sat in the hotel room reading, but I was more than OK with this. The days were spent seeing what we wanted to, and combined with looking after Maddie, we were both ready for some rest anyway. Plus, the weather was so bad one night we even decided against getting a Deliveroo to the hotel, thinking it was too cruel to subject someone to cycle in it, so I doubt we’d have been out ourselves. I had planned for us to take it in turns to go out for drinks, or down to the hotel bar while the other stayed with Maddie, but we were more than happy to curl up in the room when it came to it.
Eating out was another hurdle to overcome, but mostly it was fine. There was one particularly good restaurant where the waiting staff went above and beyond to entertain her, repeatedly telling us to eat slowly, enjoy the food and not to worry about the increasing pile of food going on the floor. I tipped well that night. Another night we went for a walk before eating, Maddie fell asleep in the pram and we found a beautiful, quiet Thai restaurant where we ate and had a couple of drinks with her sleeping next to us. That felt almost date-like, it was easy to imagine it was just the two of us enjoying a meal, like the pre-baby days. She woke up when we got the bill, charmed the hell out of the restaurant owner and promptly went back to sleep when we got back to the room. On other days, if she was awake and playful we’d take it in turns to let her practice her walking while we dined outside (the outdoor but undercover Sony Centre was a godsend for this!).
Maddie won’t remember this trip when she’s older, she might not remember it in a week for all I know, but I hope she will remember feeling totally safe, comforted and happy despite being out of routine, sleeping in a strange room, and surrounded by people speaking a different language, just as she was getting the hang of English.
When we left England, and the plane travelled through that magical moment where sunny fields give way to endless miles of fluffy cloud, I felt like I was home. That sounds ridiculously cringeworthy, but I’m leaving it in because it’s true. We didn’t get a holiday last year, out of choice, because Maddie was so young in the summer, I wasn’t ready to go anywhere and we were renovating our house, but I’d missed it. I’d missed the feeling of going somewhere for the first time, wondering what it would be like and how much I was going to feel like I fitted in to that city. I’d missed meeting strangers who became friends just for a moment, as you acknowledged this equal determination to see the world. The Thai restaurant owner, for example. What made her choose Berlin as her home? When did she make the move from her hometown, and who did she know when she did? Did she hate the winter? I’ll never know, but I’ll be glad of the few minutes we did spend talking, telling her that we gave our daughter a French name despite being British, and not being able to convey why in a way she understood, much to my amusement.
If you’re thinking of travelling with young children, please just do it. You’ll never get the time back and every year that goes by is another experience you could have had. In an increasingly terrorised and terrified world, we need to keep travel open to us, maintaining the exploration of countries we’re allowed and embracing all the experiences that brings.