Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 September 2020

How to travel the world with an 18-month-old toddler

Emmanuel Samoglu and his wife are spending a year travelling the world - with their 18-month old daughter. Here are some of the lessons they've learnt along the way

Emmanuel Samoglou on the Seoul Metro with his family. Courtesy Emmanuel Samoglou
Emmanuel Samoglou on the Seoul Metro with his family. Courtesy Emmanuel Samoglou

I’ve always wanted to visit South Korea. The faraway land entered my consciousness when Seoul hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics. Ancient temples, beautiful landscapes, a distinct cuisine and a fascinating history: it had plenty to offer. I finally made it there this autumn, and my first call to action was to find a pack of colourful balloons.

I visited Seoul with my wife and 18-month-old daughter. We’re a few months into a year of travel, having wanted to spend more time with each other, grow as individuals and see more of the world. And in this wild sport of travel, we – as in families with rambunctious dependents – are the extreme competitors. Kind of like what free soloists are to the world of rock climbing. Allow me to explain.

My little girl is generally well-behaved, but she takes great joy in throwing things, irrespective of their value. She loves to climb all kinds of structures, disregarding the danger that awaits with a ­misplaced step or an ­insufficient grip. And her moods can be volatile, abruptly shifting from exuberant joy to sheer rage should fatigue or hunger set in.

Riding bikes in Kyoto. Courtesy Emmanuel Samoglou 
Riding bikes in Kyoto. Courtesy Emmanuel Samoglou

Travelling is always a precarious enterprise. Finding a suitable meal, arranging transportation, overcoming language barriers, managing the risks of adventure and securing a comfortable bed; the potential for disaster is just one imprudent decision away. Yet the rewards can be rich, paying great dividends for those willing to endure the hardship that comes from giving up the comforts of home. That said, we’re doing this with a 12.5 kilogram firecracker of a child who sees no danger in attempting to run across the tarmac of an airport.

It wasn’t always this way for my wife and I. It was once much, much simpler. We’ve paddled a canoe deep into the Canadian wilderness together, been awoken by a rifle shot while camping high in the mountains of Crete, helped a farmer herd his sheep in rural New Zealand and danced the samba until dawn at the Rio Carnival. We would slowly sip our coffee, take several hours to eat a meal, and could exercise and practice yoga at will.

With a young daughter, we’re always on a schedule (hers) and we’ve suppressed our appetite for adventure. But that doesn’t mean starving ourselves of travel.

With a young daughter, we’re always on a schedule (hers) and we’ve suppressed our appetite for adventure. But that doesn’t mean starving ourselves of travel. We’ve committed to reconciling this change of circumstance through compromise, and by constantly remembering the salient question for travelling parents: what keeps the youngsters happy?

In short: lots of attention, playgrounds, readily available snacks, wide-open spaces, other children to interact with, small furry animals and, in our toddler’s case, a bright balloon to wave around while being chauffeured around in her pushchair in a new city.

That’s one half of the Venn diagram. Our wants and needs have been pared down, but still include good views, sunshine, caffeine, opportunities to learn, tasty food and the odd casual interaction with a stranger. It’s often a challenge that produces tears, tantrums (not just the little one’s) and despair, but we keep trying to find that middle ground.

Visits to pebbly Sicilian beaches with a small plastic shovel and bucket; Athenian playgrounds with hot courgette and feta pies from a nearby bakery; and strolling the streets of Seoul exchanging greetings of annyeong haseyo (hello) with strangers ­infatuated with our daughter’s exotic blonde locks. These are some of the experiences that have made our travels worthwhile so far.

Carmen playing with some Thai children at a temple in Chiang Mai. Courtesy Emmanuel Samoglou
Carmen playing with some Thai children at a temple in Chiang Mai. Courtesy Emmanuel Samoglou

This all came to me while at a playground in Daejo-dong, a non-touristy district in northern Seoul. I could see the towering peaks of Bukhansan National Park in the distance as children ran and screamed all around me. I kept an eye on my daughter while attempting to overcome the language barrier and have a chat about the chaos of fatherhood with a Korean man I had just met. Later on, I snuck in an ­improvised workout using the playground’s infrastructure.

I realised I won’t be climbing those mountains any time soon, but at least I can do as many chin-ups as I could in my twenties.

Updated: December 18, 2019 08:20 AM

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