I thought Kyrgyzstan was baby-crazy. I started an album on Facebook to share photos I snapped of waitresses and strangers (and some friends and family members) who would insist on holding Win when I’m out (usually to my delight if I was trying to have a nice meal without dripping lagman all over his head). Before Istanbul, there were about five photos in the album. Now, after going to Istanbul for a week, there are over 30, because several people would hold him every single day we were there.
Traveling with Win was, thankfully, a totally doable experience. He’s nearly five months old, and I think these may be the dwindling days of the magic age for traveling with a kid. I’m his sole source of food, he’s still light enough to carry around all day (after the first few days of backaches at least), he’s not mobile enough to get into trouble, and for the most part (although there are some loud exceptions) he’s about as inconvenient as an extra piece of luggage. And the biggest plus to traveling with him? Adoring fans everywhere we went.
Waiters, security guards at museums, employees at shoe stores, random women on the streets, people sitting next to us on a ferry, a mob of teenagers; everybody loved Darwin.
I didn’t get it. I mean, he’s pretty cute, and he’s finally reaching a stage where he reacts and smiles to people when they make faces and noises at him (which is just delightful after months of being ignored), but he is a normal baby. And it wasn’t just women (like in Kyrgyzstan); there were plenty of dudes who just wanted to melt into a puddle and swoon over Win’s tubby face. Most surprisingly was when a group of teenage guys could not stop poking him and squealing at him. Aren’t you guys supposed to be too cool for this? Apparently not in Turkey. Our theory is that people were excited that he’s still in his super-young, super-squishy phase. I don’t recall seeing people getting so excited over toddlers or other young kids.
So maybe you have a young baby, or you’ll soon have a young baby, or you don’t have any prospects for a young baby in the near future but you know? Maybe someday. And when that day comes, you’ll still want to travel. My suggestion is Istanbul. I’m not saying that it will be a paradise of babysitters, and there will be some difficulties, but it will be a nice ego-booster when so many people make you feel like you’ve given birth to literally the best thing ever. I lost count, but we received a hefty number of mashallah‘s thrown our way on a daily basis.
But traveling with an infant is not without its difficulties. We decided to skip the stroller, but we did bring a carseat, which we didn’t use at all because we didn’t end up taking any taxis and Win is starting to hate sitting in it anyway. I think a stroller would’ve been only marginally convenient, but we spent a lot of time in areas that weren’t stroller-friendly, with hilly, cobblestone-covered roads or crowded tourist and shopping areas. We used an Ergo carrier, or we just took turns holding him (which was super easy between me, Farrell, my parents and any random stranger that happened to want to hold him). Some days, my back ached terribly from holding him for so long, but luckily we had to plan nap breaks into our day anyway (for Win and for my jet-lagged parents) so I had chances to recuperate. For sleeping, we just put him on the bed in our hotel room. I’ve read articles from people who advise renting an apartment when traveling so that when the baby sleeps, you’re not stuck in the same room with him, but we didn’t have a problem with this. Win sleeps pretty soundly once he’s out, and we put the TV on a low volume to camouflage any squeaky doors or quiet conversations.
He had his fair share of meltdowns, but a pacifier or a quick, bouncy walk around usually calmed him down. I don’t know if it’s normal, but Darwin really seems to enjoy being outside, taking in the different scenes and faces. I don’t think he has ever cried when being held by someone new, but he would eventually want his parents back. Luckily, I think only one person got spit up on, and we were fortunate that he was understanding about it.
Since he’s so young, we didn’t have to change our plans to be “kid-friendly”. We visited tourist attractions, museums, and exhibits that are in no way marketed toward kids, and we spent many hours walking from cafe to cafe, eating snacks and drinking coffee. We hiked to the very end of Istiklal Street in Taksim three times just to get coffee from a little shop down a dark, narrow alley (more on that later), which, if Darwin were older, probably would have like, totally annoyed him. We brought a couple toys with us to keep him entertained, and he also discovered an obsession with water bottles. Strange, but what an easy way to keep him happy.
The plane rides to and from Istanbul worked out great; Win slept most of the time except for a few minor fits. The time difference was only three hours so none of us was especially affected by jet lag. We packed most of the diapers we needed, but they were somewhat easy to find in Istanbul as well.
One small annoyance was smoking, but this is a problem we face everywhere. It seems that smoking is mostly banned inside restaurants and stores, but the ban is usually ignored. During a few meals we had to move to a less-smokey part of the restaurant or finish up quicker to avoid the smoke, but generally it wasn’t a huge problem.
I hope to do a few more trips this summer before we make our next big move (to where? still undecided). Maybe we got lucky with this trip or maybe Win really is a lovely traveling companion? I’m sure it’ll change once we start feeding him solid food and he starts crawling and walking, I’ve heard that’s when the fun really begins!