The Truth About Travel With a Toddler
… we’ve just got back to Eagle Brae after a day’s adventuring, and, as we get out of the car, we suddenly realise there’s a whole family of deer standing right outside our cabin, almost as if they’d been waiting there to meet us.
(Well, I’m assuming they were a family of deer, anyway. I’m obviously no expert, here, so I guess they could have been totally unrelated deer, who all just happened to be in the same place at the same time? We will never know.) (We will always wonder now, though.)
And then it happened. Seeing us approach, the closest stag raised his head, and then suddenly gave his whole body a quick shake, sending droplets of water flying through the air. In the fading sunlight of the late afternoon, the droplets hung for a second, suspended in the air, the golden light illuminating them briefly as they fell back to earth. It was the one of those picture-perfect moments: the kind you only really see in movies, or wildlife documentaries, and never actually expect to see for real. I mean, you can just imagine it, can’t you?
Unfortunately, though, imagining it is all you’re going to be able to do here – and it’s actually all I’m going to be able to do, too, because, nope, didn’t see it. (I think I imagined it quite well, though? So it’s ALMOST like I DID see it?) I was too busy wrestling some of Max’s many belongings out of the back seat of the car, and, with my head somewhere under the passenger seat, and my butt in the air, I had NO CHANCE of witnessing this perfect moment, did I? No, I did not.
Terry, meanwhile, DID see it, and even had the camera in one hand, ready to snap a photo. Did he do it, though? Did he hell. Because he may have had a camera in one hand, but he had Max in the other – and Max does NOT make photography any easier, let me tell you. There’s a reason why I hardly ever do outfit photos any more, and the reason is that I hate all my clothes it’s really, really hard to get decent photos with a toddler in tow. Like, if the first trial in the Triwizard Tournament had been taking fashion photos while simultaneously wrangling a 1 year old, that story would’ve had a very different ending for Harry, you know?
So, we didn’t get the perfect wildlife photo – or quite a few of the other photos we wanted to take on our trip, either. And, I mean, don’t get me wrong – it took a full ten minutes to download all of the photos we DID take off the camera when we got home, so it’s not like we won’t have anything to remember it by, is it? Some of them are actually quite decent, too, but then an awful lot of them look like this:
Which, OK, is kind of hilarious in its own way, to be honest, but not so much when you consider that it’s one of only two photos I have of the three of us together on this trip (The other one is even worse. Don’t ask…), and one of only a handful of photos of the three of us together AT ALL. And this is despite the fact that I’m always telling Terry we need to make the effort to get some photos of us all together, and then we’re always not doing that. So, in total, I’d say we’ve taken maybe half a dozen family photos since Max was born, and all but a couple of them are phone selfies in which I have three chins, and Max looks a lot like the ‘sad face’ emoji. 🙁
It’s not really about the photos, though*. No, the point I’m trying to make here ( Because there is a point to this ramble, I promise, and I’m hoping that if I just keep typing for long enough, I’ll remember what it is…) is that travelling with a toddler is hard. It’s not HARD hard, obviously – I’m actually kind of scared to publish this post, because I realise most of you work 25 hours a day down a mine, and then come home to care for your 16 children and 7 elderly parents, and that you’re grimly unpacking your tiny violins for me as you read this. But it’s certainly very different from the type of travel we used to do before Max came along, that’s for sure.
These days, we’re ruled by nap times and the knowledge that a 15-month old isn’t really interested in experiencing the local culture – all he wants is to find a really good stick, or maybe a Hoover, if he’s lucky, and play with that, instead. So, travelling as a family is about eating only in child-friendly restaurants, or in our apartment/cabin: it’s sometimes even about take-out or chain restaurants, if I’m honest, because the little Instagram-ready places tend to have limited space, and no kids’ menu, and sometimes you have to pick your battles, don’t you?
It’s about visiting castles and other landmarks, but not doing the guided tour, because it’s getting dangerously close to nap-time, and you don’t want to risk a meltdown. It’s about that constant feeling of low-level failure: the knowledge that you’re in a picture-perfect place, but are totally unable to take perfect pictures of it, because there’s a small person trying to climb up your leg. It’s about lowering your expectations, and understanding that, no matter what happens, your day is ending when the baby goes to bed, and your evening will be spent in your hotel room – sometimes in the dark, depending on the type of accommodation. (At both Eagle Brae and Loch Lomond Waterfront we were fortunate to have an entire lodge to ourselves, so we could spend our evenings in front of Netflix, but in the Travel Lodge we stopped off at in Fort William, on the other hand, we shared a tiny room with Max, which meant sitting in the dark, drinking cheap wine out of coffee mugs, while listening to Max’s white noise machine. )
All of which sounds very grim and complain-y, really, doesn’t it? It’s really not supposed to be, though, I promise: because, not only would I have to be an absolute asshole to be complaining about having the opportunity to travel as much as we have been recently, the fact is, travelling with a toddler might be difficult and exhausting in ways that I couldn’t even have anticipated, but it’s also pretty much the only thing keeping me sane right now, seriously. I mean, travelling with a toddler might be hard – but staying at home with one is even harder. Or it is for me, anyway: it’s possible that that’s because I’m a tragic failure as a person, obviously, but it’s also possible that there are some people out there who also feel like they’re going to go out of their mind with boredom if they have to put the toy food back into the toy kitchen even ONE more time, but who don’t want to admit it, for fear of being told they’re not grateful enough (Please tell me there are other people who feel like that, or I’ll just have admitted to being the absolute worst parent in the world, and I’m honestly not sure my fragile self-confidence will handle it…), and who’d rather do anything – anything AT ALL – to escape the monotony of the daily grind for a couple of days. Yes, even if it means driving a few hundred miles to NOT see the inside of that castle.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s partly because I enjoy being judged, obviously, but it’s mostly because it’s really easy to look at someone’s blog or Instagram, or whatever, and think their life’s all just beautiful sunsets and smiling faces. But, of course, that’s only half of the story, and sometimes I think it’s important to acknowledge that. The real truth about travelling with a toddler though, is that it may be hard, but it’s also totally worth it, because these are the memories that will stay with us forever. So I look at these photos, imperfect as they are, and I know that these are the shots we’ll be looking back at in twenty or thirty years time: the ones we’ll be showing to Max’s girlfriend, perhaps, or even his own children. And when we do, we won’t remember the nappies we changed in public bathrooms, or the way we crept out of Urquhart Castle so the lovely tour guide who’d spoken to us on the way in wouldn’t know that we only stayed long enough to establish that Max needed his lunch, and he needed it NOW.
(We probably WILL remember that one, tbh…)
Instead, we’ll remember – or I HOPE we’ll remember – that we got to see all of these amazing places together: and that we wouldn’t have had it any other way. Because it’s really NOT about the photos, is it?
*It also kind of IS about the photos, though, because I would really like to know how it is that everyone I follow manages to get these amazing photos of their kids every day, and, meanwhile I have this photo of Max lying on the ground in a mutinous rage because I’d tried to put him back in the pushchair after he’d been on the swing, and he was NOT down with that plan:
Finally, we may not have gotten as many family photos as I’d planned, but here’s a short video Terry made of our trip to the Highlands last month: enjoy!