How many times have you been told by a shiny eyed but now distant friend that “everything changes when you have a baby?” And you think screw that, my bucket list is only getting longer, I’m going to dedicate my thirties to backpacking through far flung lands where communication is mainly performed through interpretative dance and shrug off their queries about when I’m going to settle down.
I’ve always wanted to hit the Caribbean, but for those without the island yachting budget the more reasonable Central American coast hits the spot, skirting the Meso-American coral reef (rumoured to be the longest in the world after Australia’s bleaching) and encompassing Garifuna carnival culture and the treasure islands of British pirates. Cancun is like Mexico’s pimped out fisher girl, and you can be swimming in her tropical goodness for £400return direct from London.
When I’ve had the comfortable easy life too long (unplanned pregnancy, homeless, on/off relationship in London - the worlds most notoriously anonymous city) I start to get itchy feet and crave a different bed three times a week, unpredictable daily routine, irregular meals of foreign food, an unforgiving climate, an excess of strangers, miscommunications and rackety buses without seat belts on lawless roads. The travelling life is pretty stressful even for adults who choose to leave. So is it fair to take a toddler backpacking?
I would argue thats its not fair to carry a baby cuddled in your belly for 9 months then make them sleep alone in a cot, to relinquish them full time to the care of distracted strangers in a nursery or to enforce a sleeping and eating schedule on an infant at the mercy of sporadic growth spurts.
Given Myanmar’s position at 190 out of 191 in the WHO’s ranking of healthcare systems I eventually agreed with my 17 month old daughter Iris’s godparents that my first choice of destination was not the most suitable - And I’m glad! Especially seeing as on our route we ended up visiting the hospital with Google translate three times (dehydration from rotavirus, parasitos, and a sprained wrist from rough and tumble play). Furthermore, she loves watching tropical fish, tits and shiny bling so La Ceiba’s annual carnival in Honduras seemed a great choice for her.
We stagger off a 14 hour cross-border bus journey to find the only accommodation in town is a self catering apartment above ‘Las Chica’s' strip joint in Zona Viva. After the fresh Guatemalan mountains the parade is a disorientating humid blast through spatchcock chicken stalls, each float sponsored by a more cringeworthy donor. Like a bankrupt Rio, sexy DIY dancers toss plastic bling beads to the crowds. A few live marching bands smack of the hardcore glory of when we danced the Brighton gay love parade for HIV awareness activists ACT UP! They hammer out the tunes for miles in 32˚+. When night falls the streets combust in front of live stages. We’ve got trannies competing with pubescent girlies in twerking competitions onstage in this devout Catholic land of cocaine smugglers.
I did 6 weeks alone with Iris, her buggy, a backpack to carry her in, a day bag, and a 55 litre rucksack. Like all good travelling partners, with Iris its symbiotic - I’m good at map reading, she’s good at scaring off muggers. Its a learning process. I learn to plan less hectic schedules, she realises that crabs pinch and picks up some Spanish.
Soon her Papa joins us for another 8 weeks. We do meet other families but none doing it like us (solo, largely on local transport and street food). In our era of inequality and change, travelling encourages the key skills of adaptability and compassion. Getting sick (when it doesn't kill us), enhances our immune systems. Kids open doors with notoriously reticent indigenous communities. Happy mums equal happy babies. Oh, and under two’s fly free but you get double the baggage allowance!
Becky Buchanan gave up on international development being the cure for world poverty to study MAAnthropology of Travel, Tourism & Pilgrimage at SOAS & is a founder of the affordable wellbeing retreat ‘The Orchard’. She lives in Hackney with her threenager Iris and tabby cat Aisha. When she's not worrying about not meditating enough she likes to collect tattoos, dance at festivals and write poetry she never shares. For more stories from her 2015 trip to Central America read https://backpackingwithbabyiris.wordpress.com