Have baby, will travel . . .
Long-haul trips can seem like an adventure too far with kids in tow. But well-travelled families say don’t let the fear stop you
Roxana and Brian Hefferon with their children, Mia (3) and Sophie (4) at home in Dalkey, Co Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Roxana and Brian Hefferon in Thailand with their newborn daughter Mia and one-year-old Sophie.
To jet off on a long-haul flight when your first baby is just two weeks old is admirably audacious – but to do it again one year later with your second baby at the same age, as well as a toddler in tow, seems to be asking for trouble.
But Roxana and Brian Hefferon, who live in Dalkey, Co Dublin, have always loved travelling and they haven’t let parenthood ground them.
After their first daughter, Sophie, was born in Dublin in February 2009, Roxana was determined not to miss out on a trip to California that was scheduled for Brian’s work two weeks later.
It meant the new father hightailing it to the office of the registrar to get a birth certificate and then applying for a passport for the newborn with photos taken in the maternity hospital.
Although Roxana had plenty of help because Brian’s parents travelled out with them to San Francisco, she says there were moments, while still getting to know the baby, when she wondered what she was doing.
“I think I stayed in the hotel for 48 hours, but then the baby was fine and we did a bit of travelling no problem, with a pouch,” she says. Roxana was breastfeeding Sophie, but she remembers having problems and sending Brian out to drive around for hours in search of formula. “It was all new for us.”
Next stop Thailand
One year later, they were again hastily acquiring a birth cert and passport after Mia was born and the family was due to fly out to Thailand for the wedding of Brian’s brother.
“Can you imagine me missing that trip?” asks Roxana, but she admits her doctor thought she was “absolutely mental” when she inquired about the possibility of being induced to make sure she didn’t.
However, Mia arrived of her own accord two weeks before what turned out to be a bit of a “crazy” trip, as the weather was so hot. “She was a very good baby and she wasn’t complaining, but you could see her sweating so bad.”
Since then, they have made regular trips to Roxana’s native Argentina but she says it is easier travelling with a baby than with small children who need to be entertained. But you do what you have to do, she says, recalling, for instance, how one Christmas holiday, she and the two girls survived a 12-hour stopover in New Jersey’s Newark airport on their own “without killing each other”.
The one legacy of first travel experiences of the Hefferons’ daughters is that Brian, in his rush to register Sophie’s birth, forgot what they had agreed for her middle name and left it blank. So, with the need for equality supreme in all sibling matters, they decided Mia should not be given a middle name either.
For most new parents, just getting out your front door suddenly becomes a bafflingly time-consuming and logistical challenge.
No matter how well-travelled you are, when the thoughts of flight delays, Third World conditions and strange food seem like a catastrophe waiting to happen rather than an adventure, it’s probably time to put the backpacks in the attic for a while.
As the children get older and more robust, the wanderlust may return – but by then, you’re paying full or almost full air fares for the entire family and have to work around school term times.
In hindsight, you might wonder why you didn’t travel more when they were younger . . .
Anywhere is doable with children, provided parents have the right attitude, suggests Colette Pearson, a long-haul specialist with Abbey Travel in Dublin. While they need to be cautious, she recommends the World Health Organisation website as a mine of up-to-date information about health issues in any destination you might care to consider.
For journeys into the unknown with children in tow, there is a lot to be said for travelling with a guide and other families for company. Pearson handles bookings with the UK-based adventure holiday company Exodus, which has a dedicated family brochure.
GoHop also organises private tours and small group holidays for more adventurous families. Its long-haul expert Andre Migliarina says South Africa has become very popular with those looking for a safari experience.
Due to the weakness of the rand, it will usually work out cheaper there than Kenya or Tanzania, which are priced in US dollars.
Sri Lanka, where you can combine sightseeing with chilling out at a beach resort, is also on the up, he says, while Jordan is a favourite Middle East destination.
Siobhán Daffy and Martin Dunne, who live in Glenasmole, Dublin, grabbed the opportunity to take a 2½-month trip to Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong in autumn 2011, before the eldest of their two children started school.