Building our own little rituals while traveling

Learning to love new circumstances instead of wishing for the past

Years ago, we spent a long weekend in Miami to celebrate a wedding that fell on a Saturday night. We found great airfare—with a catch: our flight left on Sunday morning, at 6 a.m. We were young(er!) and fun(ner?) and made the decision to not get a hotel room on Saturday night, thus ensuring we would stay out all night. Why would we pay the full cost of a night’s hotel just to sleep for 2 hours, we reasoned, when we could stay out longer and still pick up our belongings at the hotel before our flight? We had the best of times and caught up on sleep eventually, thus earning a few impressed nods from friends and feeling like we were still budget travelers even though we had a rather fancy weekend.

These days, I can’t imagine us making that same decision while traveling with our daughter. First, we likely wouldn’t be out that late, and second, there’s no way we’d willfully push ourselves toward an unnecessary all-nighter. While I love my new life as a parent, there have been times that I’ve really missed the ability to have late nights out and late mornings recovering from those late nights and retelling stories over a lengthy brunch.

Sean and I both knew that traveling with our daughter would look different than traveling with just the two of us. It’s full of belly laughs and long meals and so much love as well as many more tactical considerations and fewer spontaneous choices. And given our daughter’s bedtime, one of the measures we’ve had to accept is spending our nights indoors after putting her to bed.

Still savoring the tastes of Paris

When we first started our journeys, Sean and I unwittingly found ourselves firing up our laptops to do work, write, or catch up on email—not exactly an inspiring routine but seemingly necessary after we had been on the go most of the day. We sometimes heard noises from the bars down below: lovers sharing drinks, contrarians in an argument, and loud stumblers leaving after too many. I sometimes imagined a life where we could both have our baby upstairs and be downstairs and outside out amidst the scene on a regular basis again. (And, yes, a babysitter would have helped.)

There’s something about Paris that makes one feel like a romantic, and we quickly cast our computers aside and built a simple nightly ritual for ourselves. The equation went like this: a walk before dinner with Eliza as the sun set and the sky turned to dusk, a stop at a patisserie along the way to pick up a dessert, then Sean and I sharing said dessert once we’d eaten dinner and put Eliza to bed. There was often wine and a great chat too, focused on topics less routine and tactical than many of our other conversations.

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One of our more interesting dessert finds in Paris. Yes, those are real dried flowers; no, they didn’t taste great, but look how pretty!

Every day, I looked forward to this new little ritual we made for ourselves in Paris. We must’ve sampled dozens of desserts during our month there, since some nights we shared two. We saw the winding streets in our neighborhood during the loveliest light of the day. And, most importantly, we enjoyed time together without practical reasons for it.

Aren’t these the exact things we crave for our travels?

Our new routine—or as I thought of it, our temporary tradition—helped Sean and I accept the reality of traveling with a baby instead of feeling less agile for not taking part in the nightlife as often.

As we traveled, we found different iterations of a nightly wind-down. Let’s face it, the streets and desserts of Paris are hard to match. Still, this effort together became the perfect antidote to our busy days, whether sight-seeing or working or managing a bit of both.

For instance, in Spain some nights even became “date nights” when we’d watch a movie or show in Spanish and agree not to open up our laptops or phones until the morning. While traveling throughout New Zealand, we mostly stayed in one-room motels and therefore needed to hide from Eliza as she went to sleep, so our routine involved pouring a glass (ahem, or plastic water cup) of local wines, especially sauvignon blancs from the Marlborough region, and sipping them quietly together with whispered conversations while ducked behind the other side of the bed in the dark. It might go without saying that this part of the trip coincided with a rough patch of sleep for her.

If you’re reading this thinking you’d still prefer to go out on the town for a night, maybe you’ll have luck with a great babysitter or taking turns with family or friends who live locally or are along for the trip as well. But if it’s just you two and your baby, I’d argue that you’ll find an entirely different yet still enriching kind of fun.

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Burning our mouths on spring rolls in the bathtub while our daughter slept in our hotel room in Dublin (note Sean’s drenched hair—he went out into a storm to get ‘em)

We’re lucky that we’re both happy spending time on our own as well; for example, we recently took turns catching the now sold out Come From Away in Dublin on separate nights, enjoying glasses of wine along with laughter and tears from such a touching story. But these solo nights are less common than both of us being in together for the night, with Eliza sleeping peacefully (and occasionally not so peacefully)—in the other room whenever we’ve been lucky enough to have a two-bedroom rental or a few feet away, as is the case in most motel or hotel rooms.

While rituals often have religious or cultural roots, I’ve found it empowering to build our own with similar care and consideration of what matters for us. Based on our circumstances these past several months of traveling constantly with a baby and our generation’s tendency to overly rely on all things digital, our nightly rituals have made sense for us and created a sense of calm and even joy.

There’s a nice camaraderie in these experiences as a couple. Even when they’re not ideal, they somehow feel just right.

Have you established your own little rituals or full-on traditions while traveling, whether you’re alone or with your family? If not, what rituals will you aim to create on your next trip?

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