In hindsight, maybe we were dummies. Shon and I returned from a 10-day trip to Nicaragua with Ben about two weeks ago and have only now mostly recovered. Shon went for work. Ben and I tagged along for fun—though I’m not sure the “fun” part of the trip ever really took hold. I’d be more inclined to call the adventure a “learning experience” and leave it at that.
Our itinerary took us from Nicaragua’s northern colonial city of León to an all-inclusive resort on the Pacific to a farm on a lake island called Ometepe. (More on those destinations in future posts.)
Pre-trip, taking two-and-a-half-month-old Ben to Nicaragua sounded like a fine—even “fun”—idea. Shon and I had traveled there before and knew what to expect regarding first- versus third-world amenities. We knew (or, at least, thought we knew) what luxuries we would need to keep all three of us content. We bought our tickets, solidified our itinerary, selected comfortable accommodations, and arranged for reliable, baby-friendly transport. We packed. We boarded the dogs. We even subleted our Brooklyn apartment to a nice couple from Italy through Airbnb.
Of course, there were new details to sort out like how to get Ben a passport (baby passports are the sweetest!), what baby items we could bring on the airplane gratis (a stroller and car seat, both of which we checked at the gate), and how best to fly with an infant (nurse while ascending and descending to relieve pressure in tiny ears), but for the most part, it seemed like we knew what we were getting into.
If you’re a parent, I bet you’re enjoying a very good, very long laugh. Alright, please… That’s enough…
It turns out that just as caring for a baby is a learn-by-doing process, traveling with a baby is, too. We discovered firsthand that no matter how well-traveled you are, venturing to a far-flung destination is a whole new experience with a 10-pound pudgester at your side. You become a travel novice all over again, forced to learn a whole new travel skill set. Had we known this in advance, I doubt we would have chosen Nicaragua for our trial trip with baby. We didn’t, though, and so Nicaragua it was. We learned a lot on this excursion, but what follows were the three biggest takeaways.
1. Avoid HOT destinations. I don’t mean Jersey shore hot; I mean 112˚F hot. Not all of Nicaragua was broiling, but León—the city where we stayed for part of our trip (Shon’s work part)—was. Surrounded by lava-spewing volcanoes, it was as steamy above ground as it surely is below. While Shon worked, Ben and I saw the city’s sights incrementally, with Ben in a Baby Bjorn carrier and covered by a swaddle blanket for sun protection. I love the Bjorn’s minimalist design, but it was still brutally hot. Every outing—even a quick diaper run—resulted in a red-faced and sweaty mama and baby. (We brought a stroller, but it was little help, as terrible sidewalks rendered it mostly useless.) We kept our room near-frigid with air-conditioning, but it provided little respite once the walls started closing in. Ben (and I) soon missed home comforts, like his swing and changing table, and staying in with a fussy baby quickly became as stifling as heading out.
2. Be wary of time changes. Turns out, even the slightest time change can be tough on a baby (and parents). Nicaragua is two hours behind New York at this time of year, so instead of waking at 5 a.m., Ben was up and at ‘em by 3 each day. I felt terrible for Shon, who needed to head to and be functional at work. Evenings weren’t much easier, as Ben was ready for bed by 5:30 p.m., way before the set 7 p.m. dinner time at both the beach resort and later the farm where we stayed. We ended up bringing food to our room and eating in the dark or skipping dinner entirely. We did always have beer, though, so that helped : )
3. Expect to see the world with new eyes. Shon had a few free days at the end of our trip, so we traveled to Ometepe, a jungle-covered lake island with a pair of dramatic volcanoes. We had visited once before, and I remembered it as a kind of wild but pleasant place. Brand-new mom eyes changed that entirely; I was an anxious mess before we even arrived. On the one-hour ferry ride over, I worried about germs, disease, and drowning. On the bumpy, two-hour drive to reach our lodging, I worried about shaken baby syndrome. At the farm where we stayed, I worried about biting bugs and howler monkeys. On hikes (i.e. super-short walks), I worried that Ben would overheat, particularly because we covered him head to toe in pants, socks, and a swaddle blanket (see bugs above). A once-fun destination was a bit nightmarish for a new mom. (Shon dealt with things much more rationally.)
To be clear, Nicaragua is a beautiful country, and one that Shon and I loved on our previous visit. On that trip, we climbed active volcanoes, watched sea turtles nest in the sand, fished the Pacific, and explored swamps in kayaks. It was a fantastic destination for active travelers. With a baby, though, its minor discomforts, like heat, a time change, and bugs–things most typical visitors would overlook–were very much magnified, and its major attractions were mostly missed. So much so that we wouldn’t return?
Ask me again in a year. Or three.