I’m a mom.
I have a demanding but flexible job. I have an incredibly supportive husband. I travel internationally, primarily to developing countries.
As any mother can attest, decisions about work travel and babies are incredibly personal, complex and guilt-inducing. Even before my oldest was born, I was committed to traveling with her for her first year or so.
Conveniently, she decided that taking a bottle was not her thing. She was (and is) a determined individual. As a 5-month old she went on 10-12 hour hunger strikes on more than one occasion, refusing any and every type of bottle available in the store (not to mention sippy cups), with every different nipple type, milk at every temperature, in every possible feeding position, given by every friend, family member or childcare worker willing to try to break her.
So my daughter and I agreed. We would not be separated. We would be traveling buddies.
She hit up seven countries in her first year, along with a few domestic trips. I loved every minute of it. (Ok maybe not every minute during the minute itself…but every minute as I look back.) The memories I have and stories that will become hers are amazing.
She sat up for the first time in a hotel room in London.
She saw her first snow on a layover in Zurich.
She swam in her first pool in Phnom Penh.
She had her first dip bath in rural Tanzania. (Granted, I think she hated baths for a year in fear someone might throw freezing cold water on her head…but I digress.)
She ate her first mango in Ethiopia. She had her first mangoes and sticky rice in Thailand.
She had people on four continents playing peekaboo with her, sending her into giggling fits. Her passport has a picture of her at six weeks which is priceless (and absolutely not a reliable tool for identifying her at 10 weeks, let alone now that she’s 4.)
A few things we learned together along the way:
- The US Passport Agency is the best government bureaucracy. They are helpful, informative and think of things you don’t to make your life (and that of your passport-seeking infant) easier.
- It is essential to call often (and I mean often) to ensure that your bulkhead seat and basinet are confirmed on your international flights. Do not be afraid to play the mother of infant angry and/or crying card if they claim they have no record of said confirmation. Flying 9-15 hour flights holding a baby in your arms or even your Ergo is not a sustainable solution. Since international flights actually charge for lap infants (generally 10% the cost of your ticket for the infant), do not feel guilty about ensuring you get what you reserved.
- Most colleagues in most places will love you more if you travel with your baby.
- My daughter has still never really met a stranger. I think a lot of it is just her natural personality, but I also suspect the travel made her more adaptable and open to people.
- People see traveling with your baby as breaking ground or maybe the rules (or both). I was asked countless times, “They let you travel with your baby for work.” No one let me, I just did it. I work for a child-focused organization that even has a policy promoting the ability to make breast-feeding possible for moms who decide to go that route. Yet we still struggle to make space for parents and infants. Traveling with your baby is definitely not for every mom or every baby…but if it is for you, don’t let other people dissuade you.
- Babies do need their own visas in most countries. In my experience sometimes it sometimes seems like the immigration officials are making up the cost for an infant, but there generally is one.
- Traveling with just one parent, infants (and children) will often need a letter from the other parent authorizing the travel. With the rise in issues related to child abduction and trafficking, this is actually an admirable trend. Rules vary by country, some even require a notarized letter, so be sure you know the rules so you don’t get turned away/deported home.
- Good childcare is available everywhere. Work with local colleagues or friends where you are traveling (or tap into online systems in countries that have them), to be sure you have a caregiver who has been vetted, has good experience and language skills that will allow you to communicate.
- Traveling light is still possible (with a few caveats). Take twice as many diapers as you think you will need. Don’t skimp on the safety and convenience pieces like a stroller and carseat.
Ultimately, my oldest and I had so much fun, I decided to take the same approach with my second (even though she was friendly with the bottle). She was also a trooper, though not quite as laid back about the travel. She just turned one and now we’re balancing the next phase—work travel without the baby.