Babies create a wide and welcoming doorway into other cultures. People, by and large, just love babies. They pinch their cheeks and talk to them in excited parodies of speech. They make people lose their inhibitions and act silly, leap about or pull funny faces. Babies will fit right in on a noisy bus with chickens and elbows and shared laps and communal food.
But what about being a baby? And being a traveler?
It has occurred to me that travel is just like being a baby. Somewhere to sleep. Something to eat. Something warm or cool to wear. Stuff to look at, people to smile at and talk to. The ability to sleep in odd positions. No bills. Milestones, not deadlines. The simple things.
Travellers live so much more in the moment. Babies don’t stress about tomorrow and don’t harp on about yesterday. They remember useful things like where the milk is to be found, and that being wrapped and put in bed means go to sleep. They remember smiling faces and scary dogs. Like travellers, they forget discomforts as soon as they are over. But when things are bad, they are really bad. Travellers, like babies, often make sure everyone hears about it!
Babies are wide eyed and interested. They love to look around and say hi. And when they need a sleep they just crash.
They cry when they’ve had enough. Their language is universal; smiles, tears, giggles, hellos. A bit like your average monolingual Australian backpacker, although cute not cringy.
Babies, like travellers, have very little need for gear. The world is their world. Home is where their pack is, or for babies, where their family is. And, as for travellers, there is a multi million dollar industry that suggests the opposite is true.
A baby’s routine is like a traveler’s routine, eating when hungry, whatever is available, sleeping when tired.
Many travellers swear by the adage that a pint of Guinness and a banana will meet all nutritional requirements. Babies have days when breast milk and a banana is all they get. And all they need.
Both travellers and babies are basically dirty all the time. They need a lot of washing and wiping, and like travellers, find that a bowl of water and a very small towel will do the job.
Babies, like travellers, don’t faff about in the mornings, My baby wakes up, does a few push ups, blows me a kiss or two, does 7 seconds clapping practice, and he’s off. A traveler can wake up, find their shoes, shove a couple last things in their pack and leave for the train in 5 minutes. No flylady.com required. No, travellers reserve fanfare for things that are actually interesting and fun.
Babies, however, are small and vulnerable. The world is big and at times scary and unsafe. Like a traveler having no choice but to trust a maniacal driver with their life or a dodgy agent who has disappeared with their passport, a baby is utterly dependent on people who keep using words he doesn’t understand, who get louder and more animated upon each passionate repetition. Like a baby, travellers find that learning fast and having a sixth sense for who you can trust are survival skills.
Babies, like travellers, skew the lines between personal and public. Topics like the contents of the nappy or the frequency of trips to the loo enter into the public domain where ordinarily they have no business. Every parent has a nappy story and every traveler has a gastro story. Like the weather, it always gives us something to talk about.
Travellers, like babies, do not distinguish between clothes and pyjamas. There is joy in the simplicity of collapsing into bed without getting changed. And like travellers, they go shirtless from time to time in places where no one local goes shirtless.
Babies wear their hearts on their sleeves, they cry and laugh unashamedly when moved by sights or sounds or people. They feel real fear. Travellers, too, will pour out their deepest thoughts to strangers on a train, hug people they’ve spent only a few hours with, and allow moments of connection to change the course of their life direction.
Babies are learning so fast, they are in constant motion; watching, tasting, listening. Babies get their teeth stuck into things, and suck the marrow out of them. Babies know no entropy, stagnation or mediocrity. A traveler will only taste these by staying still for too long, and will know the remedy is to pack up and buy a ticket…any ticket.
Babies, like travellers, occasionally need a veg out day, but by 11am they are itching to go for a walk and see what there is to see. And like travelers, babies often prefer to walk for themselves, than to be carried or driven about.
A baby, like travel, is basically good for you. Both provide ample opportunity to learn that pitching in and carrying the weight of others is part of living.
Babies, like travellers, know that a cute smile and friendly chat often result in free bananas.
Babies, like travellers, know that when you’ve got gastro, you drink water, eat rice, and sleep.
Babies, like travellers, hardly go a day without photography.
Babies, like journeys, are fun to create, hard work to birth, and cheap once you get going.
Home-coming travellers, like babies, can be transformed in a year: utterly changed, looking different, sounding different, feeling different. Maybe struggling to remember what ‘home’ means.
Just like being a baby, travel won’t last forever.
Or will it?
Maybe the ‘trip’ won’t last forever, but perhaps the eagerness, the wide eyed curiosity, the thinking, wondering, open-mindedness might linger. Babies grow into toddlers and children. Travellers come home, cut their hair and get real jobs. But the ideas discovered, the roads travelled, the neural pathways laid down, the language learnt and the people encountered have the ability to direct who we are forever.
Travel well, baby.