In the summer of 2016, my husband and I left our year-old son with the grandparents for the first time and went on a week-long vacation to Italy.
We missed our son, sure, but there was something about being halfway around the world from him that freed us from worrying about him. Being several different time zones away meant that we didn’t really have to stress about whether or not he was napping on schedule, or if he’d done a decent lunch. We checked in with the grandparents here and there, enough to satisfy our curiosity and reassure us that everything was okay.
We visited museums and downed rooftop aperitivi before plowing through a food crawl in Florence. A different flavor of gelato for dessert every night. We drove through the Tuscan countryside, stopping to taste wine and olive oil before we finally found our bed and breakfast in Siena. We went to a medieval festival in Volterra and I used bad, broken Italian to chat with a winemaker in Montepulciano.
It was an amazing trip. We couldn’t wait to get back to our son… but we also couldn’t wait to travel again. We wanted to come back to Italy, or at least to Europe, soon.
To be clear, when I was pregnant, we agreed that there was no sense in taking our son to Walt Disney World until he would be old enough to remember it. Now we were contemplating flying across an ocean with him.
We decided to investigate the concept of home exchanging. (Yup, like the movie The Holiday.) We started browsing houses in Florence, Rome, Venice… and then took the plunge.
The home exchange website we use is set up a lot like a real estate site. People list their homes and include information about the house, their city and post pictures of the place. They also list places they would like to travel, so that you can see if people are interested in coming to your area. You send them a message to see if they want to do an exchange, and they tell you yes or no. One afternoon while our son was napping, we ran around the house, taking pictures inside and out.
We started with Italy, because we’d just been and wanted to go back. But then we started sending messages to other travelers in big cities like London, Paris and Dublin. Every once in a while, we’d get a nibble of interest, but for one reason or another, things didn’t work out. The people didn’t have a crib or baby stuff, our travel dates didn’t line up, things like that.
We decided to cast our net a little wider. There’s a great big world out there to explore, so why limit ourselves? It was kind of like throwing a dart at a map to see where it would land. Why not?
We started sending messages to Berlin, Brussels, Vienna, Copenhagen, Amsterdam… and then finally, after a couple months of searching, we had a match. A perfect match.
A family in Copenhagen with two little ones wanted to come to D.C. We booked our flights, got our son his first passport, and made all the arrangements for a two-week stay in Copenhagen.
Things can always go wrong when you travel. I was terrified that we’d be “those” parents on the plane with “that” kid who wouldn’t stop fussing and crying. But I also sucked it up and decided that we paid for the kid’s seat, he was a ticketed passenger, and whatever happened, happened. It would be an 8-hour blip out of our two-week journey, and we’d survive it.
But we got lucky. Our son turned out to be a great traveler. Within days of our arrival, the kid had taken his first plane ride, train ride, boat ride and bus ride. We visited the National Museum of Denmark, the main library in Copenhagen, the Frederiksberg Centret or shopping mall, the Copenhagen Zoo, the Frederiksberg Have, the picturesque canals of Nyhavn, the aquarium, the big food markets of Torvehallarne and Paper Island, a street art fair, and Tivoli Gardens.
We’ll remember his smile while riding on the carousel at Tivoli, his glee at every subway ride. The way he ran through the children’s section of the museum with a little Viking helmet on, and the way he insisted on climbing the stairs by himself every time we returned to our flat.
I say “our flat” because it really felt like home to us. That trip to Denmark wasn’t a vacation. We were there long enough to get to know our way around the neighborhood and to memorize all the subway stops. We found a favorite takeaway spot. We fell into a routine there, just like we have at home.
Sure, it isn’t easy to travel with a kid. It takes lots of preparation, planning, and patience. But it can be done. And to us, it’s worth it.
It’s worth it when he points to the bumper sticker on the back of my car and yells “Denmark!” It’s worth it when he looks through his bookshelf and pulls down the one about flying on an airplane. Wherever we end up going next, I’m sure it’ll be an adventure… after all, every day in the MotherHustle is an adventure, right?
Jessica Goodwin lives near Washington, D.C., with her husband, son, and their two cats. She’s written four novels and her work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Baby Gaga, Chocolate & Chaos, Tribe Magazine, Mamalode, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Nope, she’s writing. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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