I thought I was the kind of parent who liked to travel light. Not for me the pantechnicon of baby kit, stocked to anticipate every possible eventuality. Carrying the bare minimum, I relied instead on the availability of supplies at my destination and the generosity of others en route. That was until a recent escape-the-heat, five-week solo trip to the UK with my 18-month-old daughter taught me a valuable lesson.
My in-laws had generously decided to collude in my delusion by supplying me with a car seat, travel cot, high chair and stroller, thus greatly reducing the amount of luggage I would need to carry from the UAE. My wife had warned me about the potential comedy value and great antiquity of the stroller and high chair, and I had promised to be gracious. She had used the high chair as a child, but had failed to realise that this wooden scaffold, a cross between a Coney Island fair ride and some antediluvian siege engine, was already ancient even in her infancy. Here, at the best guess of everybody who saw it, was a museum piece whose origins dated to a time when children were seen but not heard.
At least the high chair was fully functional, something that could not be said of the tiny stroller, an object that proved more difficult to date. Its high-contrast colour scheme and postmodern patterning bore more than a passing resemblance to the bedroom wallpaper I’d had as a child, so I guessed early 1980s. Whatever its age, here was an object with an uncanny state of preservation and cleanliness, something that could only be explained by the fact that it had probably only ever been used once before being discarded in favour of a less infuriating and excruciating form of transport.
Predictably, my daughter was in on the joke and seemed more than happy to sit in the toy-sized stroller, which caused the sleeves of my jacket to ride up my forearms as I pushed her, bent double, around the local town.
To add insult to injury, the stroller’s hard rubber wheels produced an ear-piercing screech on any uncarpeted surface and were fixed, making any sudden change in direction all but impossible. To steer the chair I was forced either to lift the back wheels before charting a new course, or to tack along the kind of broad arc normally associated with a figure skater or yacht, an impossible manoeuvre in the narrow aisles of most shops.
Our holiday ended, five weeks later, with my daughter newly skilled in the art of scaffold climbing and with my biceps ripped from the exertion. I have learned my lesson. Whatever your approach, there’s no such thing as travelling light when it comes to travelling with kids.
This article originally appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi