My favorite travel companion Alexis and I met in a bathroom in a club in Japan more than a decade ago, and became fast friends. When we travel together, I am always more exhausted at the end of the trip than at the beginning because we do so much. Alexis, in the middle of her grad school exams, insisted on driving from Vancouver to Whistler because I needed to experience the Sea-to-Sky highway, peak-to-peak gondola and poutine. We stayed for an hour before turning around so she could finish her paper. When Alexis visits Chicago, I have a sick patriotic compulsion to show her as many states as possible, our current record being four in a week. We always pledge to slow down and take it easy, but then find ourselves on a road trip to the Okanagan Valley for a wine tour. And I would have it no other way.
I was thrilled when Alexis and her husband became parents to a baby boy. I planned a trip to Vancouver to meet him before the end of Alexis’s year-long maternity leave. (Yes, that’s right, Americans. YEAR. LONG. MATERNITY. LEAVE.) Needless to say, we could no longer just take off last minute to gawk at cowboys at the Calgary Stampede or dash to Missouri for the sole purpose of checking it off the list. I should’ve known times had changed when I awoke the first day to the baby standing in front of me, eye to eye, his tiny hand gently patting my cheek as if to say, “There, there. I know you’re new here, so I’ll make this easy: I am your new overlord.”
Here are some ways you can make things easier on your favorite overlord – and his or her parents:
Lend a hand.
This philosophy can actually be applied anytime you hang out with friends and their kids. You have two hands, one if you’re holding a drink. In any case, they’re still more hands than the parent is accustomed to. Make yourself useful. Load the dishwasher. Pick up toys. If you’re feeling extra motivated, make a meal. Or even easier, just play with the baby. While hanging out on the floor with Alexis’s son, I asked how I could help. “You are helping,” she responded as she dashed past us with a load of laundry. Even better, helping out frees up time to spend with your friend.
Embrace the art of slow travel.
Slow travel is the latest vacation trend where instead of cramming 15 cities into 10 days, you pick one and amble through at a leisurely pace. There’s no better way to experience slow travel than by walking next to a stroller. We had a beautiful morning strolling through the Fairview and South Granville neighborhoods. We stopped in Charleson Park for a turn on the swings and to take in the gorgeous view of False Creek. Baby lunched in a park near the Granville Island Water Park, while we grown-ups had our meal outside of the Granville Island Public Market. We also multi-tasked by picking up some salmon and other ingredients for a spectacular dinner.
Yes, it was touristy. Yes, it was crowded. But it was also predictable, which is key when you’re traveling with a friend and her baby, a baby who has graciously agreed to behave despite shifts in his daily routine. See? Everybody’s flexible and everybody has a good time.
Staying in is the new going out.
Count on spending some quality evenings at home. Though not quite as exciting as the nights out of yore, waking up refreshed and without a hangover is fantastic, especially now that you’re old and require twice the recovery time. Plus you will be getting up earlier because babies are the world’s most effective alarm clocks.
Also keep in mind that even though your friends are exhausted, they want to hang out with you. They’re the reason you came to visit, right? Grab a bottle of wine and relax because who needs wine more than parents? My friends are fortunate enough to have a roof top deck where we enjoyed a DIY happy hour. As with all things child-related, a little planning goes a long way…or nowhere at all.
Roll with the changes and respect the routine.
Speaking as a non-parent, it seems to me that babies swing between two extremes – happy or miserable – for a variety of reasons. My little buddy had tummy problems and some new teeth coming in, which would make anyone less amenable than usual. A trip to the wonderful kids’ pool at Second Beach in Stanley Park nearly ended in tears for everyone as baby decided to wait until we were stuck in traffic to cry inconsolably (not even pausing to acknowledge our rousing group rendition of Rock-a-bye Baby – rude!), only to stop the second we got home. While that was definitely a jerk move on baby’s part, he was the perfect drooling gentleman during a dinner out and pretty much for the duration of my stay. You just never know.
While being flexible is important, respecting a little person’s routine can make all the difference between a successful outing and a disastrous meltdown. You may think it ridiculous that baby has to eat at 11:02 am and then nap for exactly 52 minutes, but for a baby, routine is the key to security and happiness. Parents know their kids and their needs best. Follow their lead and stick to the routine as much as possible for maximum good times.
This too shall pass.
Keep in mind that your hosts also long for the days of leisurely dinners and staying out past nine, and may even feel guilty that things aren’t as freewheelin’ and fun as they were pre-baby. Cut them some slack, be a good guest, and have faith that in a few years those days will return. The babies of today are the cool travel companions of tomorrow – or at least the people who will be kind enough to wipe the drool from your chin when the time comes.