Derek Sivers

Travel is best with young children

2022-05-09

“Once you have a baby, you can’t travel.” I’ve heard this so many times, although only from people who haven’t done it.

But I took my baby to nine countries before he was one year old. Then another ten countries by the time he was eight. So I can tell you from experience that it’s not only easy but great.

We need to share this with new parents. Too many new families are cooped-up, stewing, frustrated, and bored in their home, when it’s actually the best time to get out.

Travelling with a baby or young child is the best way to visit somewhere new, exotic, and interesting. It’s even better than travelling alone or as a couple. Here’s why.

They help you stop and appreciate.

When my baby was ten days old, I took him out to a park for the first time, and he saw his first tree. I imagined it from his perspective, as if I’d never seen a tree before. So complex! So beautiful. I appreciate trees more since then.

Same with the other senses. Smelling dirt. Touching a caterpillar. Listening to birds.

Before him, I was often in a hurry, trying to get somewhere else. Babies help you stop and pay attention. When you travel, this is what you need. Less rushing to a destination. More stopping to appreciate everything inbetween.

You see better through their new eyes.

One way to teach realistic drawing is to turn an image upside down before drawing it. This helps you see what’s actually there instead of what you think should be there. Upside down, you see just lines and shading. Draw those, and you get a more accurate result. This trains you to see more reality than assumption.

Same with your child’s senses. Instead of categorizing something — like “tree” — and overlooking it, you can experience it through their eyes to see the wonderful complexity of what’s actually there. No names. No labels. Which leads to the next point…

No prejudice.

India, Pakistan, Israel, Brazil, Vietnam, Nigeria, China, Russia. You have thoughts about these places. You’ve heard people say things about them, and that’s affected your perception. You judged them before actually going there.

Men in monk’s robes or camouflage. Women in burqas or bikinis. Eye shape. Skin color. It’s hard to see past your pre-judgements.

Your child has no prejudices. This is my favorite part. I often go to places I’m biased against. Seeing them through my child’s unbiased perception, and interacting with the people as such, helps me connect, which then helps me expire my old opinions.

I wish I could take him with me everywhere, like glasses.

Nothing (everything) is weird.

When I go somewhere like Japan, Peru, or Zanzibar, it feels exotic. Strange. Super-different. Weird.

Your home feels normal and right because you spent many years there. Then when you go somewhere very different, it feels exotic and even wrong. You think of your home as “normal” and the new place as “weird”. You keep it at a distance. You think “them” not “us”.

But to your child, everything is new anyway. Everything is equally strange, so nothing is strange. This helps you see it as just another way of doing things. Not weird. Not wrong. This helps bridge the differences, and feel like “us” not “them”.

Airports are more fun.

Especially for children, airports are not just a way to get somewhere else, but their own destination. Great people-watching. So many sounds. So many other kids to play with, waiting at gates. You learn to get to the airport super-early to leave time for all of this.

You get preferential treatment when flying. Boarding early. Flight attendants extra-friendly.

And until my son was three years old, the only time we ever let him watch a screen was on a plane, so he was completely transfixed while flying.

You don’t need to bring much.

When you go somewhere exotic, it’s fair to worry that they might not have something you need — like a special part for your electronic thing. But packing for kids is easy. Baby supplies are everywhere. Everywhere has diapers, baby food, and all necessities. Pack only for the journey. Get everything else after you arrive.

Kids aren’t impressed with impressive.

This took me a long time to learn. I would travel for hours to take my son somewhere really impressive — some superlative structure or view. Once we arrived, he would be thrilled by the tiniest thing. “Oooh! Look! Caterpillar!” He was never impressed with what was supposed to be impressive.

I drove hours to take him to a famous landmark, but we never made it past the entrance because he was so fascinated with a dead log filled with bugs. We played with that log for hours until it was time to leave.

End result? They’re right! “Impressive” is for adults. “Impressive” is often satisfying a bucket list, but it can make you overlook what’s actually fun. Kids help you keep this in perspective.

Babies bring out the best in people.

Everybody loves babies. It’s like travelling with a puppy. Everyone melts. Everyone stops to interact. Having a baby helps you connect with people.

I met with a friend in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He’s lived there for ten years. We walked around town for an afternoon with my son. So many people stopped to interact with my baby, make faces with him, and ask questions about where we were from. Afterwards my friend said that more people stopped to talk with us that one afternoon, than in his ten years of living there combined.


So, yes. Dispel the myth. Spread the word. Travelling with babies or young children is the best.

photo of baby on jackfruit