Iain Lawrie has an impressive travel list. He has been from Iceland to New Zealand, putting his job on sabbatical and travelling sometimes for a year at a time. His particular passion has been cycling – he and his wife, Anna, have cycled all around Europe, Japan and Australia. But the recent (celebrated) arrival of his baby daughter has set this independent traveller musing about how a child will affect his wanderlust. Over the coming months, Lawrie will regularly document his changing attitudes to travel as he learns what parenting really means. Here, in his inaugural post, he reminisces with suitcases&strollers about life on the road before baby.
On 25 July this year our lives were joyously turned on their heads with the birth of our first child, Greta Alice. Her slightest hint of a grin now sends me cooing. Her big beaming eyes send me weak at the knees. With only the slightest parental bias, little Greta is perfect — in all but one critical way. For the next several years, she will be a horrible cycle touring companion.
In fact, for the time being, Greta will put pause to any cycling holiday. Plans to cycle through Iran or a host of other adventurous locations are now well off the agenda. Even a little trundle along the local bike path is off. As you might appreciate, this is cause for much reflection on the important “where do we go on our next holiday” question.
I’ve been forced to ponder one of those great first world problems. Unlike my other travel experiences, this time there has been no epiphany on a mountain pass. Just a slow dawning with every sleepless night that travelling with a child will be different —it will have to be different. The impossibility (within the realms of responsible parenting) of my favoured way of travel requires me to take a fresh perspective.
Back in 2002, I set off on a “big trip”. Initially, it was to be the sort of big trip which lots of people in their early twenties dream of taking. Hiking in New Zealand followed by cities and culture shock in Japan, skiing in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, some razzle-dazzle in New York City then history and culture in the notable European capitals. Venturing north above the Arctic Circle in Scandinavia to experience the midnight sun was also on the list. In short, I wanted a year of drinking and partying in places that weren't quite like home. It was an expansive itinerary. Too expensive for my meagre budget. A friend unhelpfully inquired whether I had deliberately planned to visit the 10 most expensive countries in the world.
Not to be deterred, I set off regardless. From time to time on the road I fruitlessly pondered a solution. That solution came one cold, clear morning whilst looking out the window of yet another backpacker bus. Climbing to the top of a mountain pass on the Icefields Parkway in the Canadian Rockies, our bus overtook two heavily laden, rosy cheeked looking bicycle riders, slowly spinning their way up the hill. A short while later, as I stood amongst the tired rag tag of (mostly hungover) backpackers taking in the view at the top, the riders rolled on to the summit. To my surprise, instead of looking completely exhausted, they leapt off their bikes and gave a round of high fives. In contrast, I was feeling distinctly queasy from the twisty mountain road and the previous night's cheap beer. I gazed somewhat enviously at the cyclists’ beaming, healthy faces. By the time the bus nauseated its way to the bottom, I'd worked it all out — I would cycle tour when I got to Scandinavia later in the trip.
As it turns out, I didn't cycle all the way to the Arctic Circle. Or even much of the way. I bought a cheap rail ticket for my new bike and I got as far north as Norway's trains would take me. A further ferry took me out to the preposterously beautiful Lofoten Archaepeligo — a chain of islands rising near vertically out of the Arctic Ocean, more than 100 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. I spent the next week cycling along the quiet, relatively flat road which runs along the bottom of these blade-like islands of rock. It was a blissful few days of perpetual sunshine boosted by a growing sense of fitness, well being and self reliance. I was hooked.
I've spent every major holiday since then on a bike. From chateaus and cider in bucolic northern France to sushi and onsens on Japan's Shikoku Island. From snow gums and blistering sun in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales, Australia to the castles and crags of the Scottish Isles – all of them from the saddle of a laden touring bicycle. So, when, nearly a decade later, my similarly bicycle loving wife and I decided we should take a career break before starting a family, a long cycle tour was a certainty.
In 2011, we set off from the north of Europe in Copenhagen, Denmark, enroute for Istanbul, Turkey. This time there would be no trains, no buses — just our own power. Starting in the flatlands of Denmark and northern Germany, we headed into the hills of the Czech Republic and Austria. After crossing the Alps, we rolled down to Venice, then on into the Balkans. The stunning coast of Croatia gave way to the mountains of Montenegro and the charming chaos of Albania. Macedonia and Greece followed, before we rolled through amazingly hospitable Turkey.
We reluctantly boarded the plane home from Istanbul pondering the relative ease with which we might have continued across Turkey into Iran and beyond into the ’stans. We were fit, knew our limits, knew our bikes and knew we would be back soon enough to continue east...
I say “relative ease”, but it wasn't all easy. Some days it rained. All day. Other times a howling headwind blew, sapping your spirit. Occasionally you had both wind and rain. And the scenery wasn't always inspiring. But over time, those negative emotions faded, leaving only the emotional highs — like cycling over the bridge into Venice after crossing a continent, or meeting the most gregarious people in the poorest parts of Europe.
Parenthood so far (just over three weeks!) has been an uncannily similar parade of polar emotions. Of course, there's been screaming sessions at 4am. And I'd still take cycling up a hill over changing an overfull nappy. Yet as I type, Greta lies asleep next to me — a picture of complete peaceful perfection. I'm left with only the highs.
So, over the next little while on suitcases&strollers, I will be sharing what I expect will be my new perspective on travel with you. It will be a little conversation about how my wife Anna and I, as more adventurous travellers, begin to enjoy much less adventurous travelling with our newborn Greta. I have a sense that this new perspective will be much more about seeing the interest in the things that are just outside your front door. Maybe in our lust for global two-wheeled adventure, we might have missed things which are just down the street. It might take Greta to alert them to us! After all, everything is a huge adventure for Greta at the moment. A trip to the supermarket expands her experience just as much as a round the world trip did for my 25 year old self!
But...I don't think that will last for long. The travel instinct is already gnawing at me. Having just come home from a particularly successful dinner out (we ate, Greta slept), I'm inspired to tap “touring Central Asia with infants” or similar into suitcases&strollers’ search engine. I'll keep you posted with how it comes along.
Actually, it is possible to do long cycle touring holidays with kids — just not with babies. To read about one suitcases&strollers family that cycled with kids through 15 countries from Alaska to Argentina, click here.
To read about a suitcases&strollers mum's first experiences flying with her two newly adopted Ethiopian babies as a first time mother, see the suitcases&strollers story here.
By Iain Lawrie
Iain Lawrie is a regular contributor to suitcases&strollers. To read more of his work, type "Iain Lawrie" into the Search bar on the suitcases&strollers website.