When I was pregnant, a lot of people felt the need to tell me and J that we could say goodbye to our love of travel. Once we had a kid, it would all be over for the foreseeable future.
Also, when I was pregnant, J and I bought tickets to a concert in Vienna, Austria for around the time the baby would be just under six months old. Because, fuck it, adventure!
A little backstory: J is a huge fan of Robbie Williams, who is one of the biggest international pop stars, selling out stadiums all over the world — except in the United States. For whatever reason, America just never really caught the Robbie train. Over the years, it became a tradition for J and his mom, whom he was very close with, to travel abroad together whenever Robbie toured to catch a show and see a different city for each tour. (Just to be clear, they didn’t follow each tour around the globe like Deadheads, they saw ONE show on each tour, every few years). Together, they traveled to places like Manchester and Milan and it was an incredible mother/son adventure. They had the kind of relationship I hope to have with my son someday.
When J’s mom passed away a little over two years ago, we were planning our wedding. We were obviously heartbroken to lose her, and even more crushed that she wouldn’t be there — at least not physically — for our wedding day, and for all of the still-to-come milestones, including the birth of our future child.
When we found out we were pregnant, the doctor told us that our due date was March 2 — exactly two years from the day J’s mom passed.
So, when I was in my third trimester of a very healthy pregnancy, and we found out that Robbie Williams was launching another world tour, there was no question. This would be a great tribute to my late mother-in-law, and J was excited to share the Robbie/travel experience with me and our son. Full circle.
We picked a date closer to the end of the tour, so that the baby would be old enough to travel, and we picked a city we both had never been to — Vienna. And then we got excited.
After the baby was born, we went back and forth a few times about whether the trip was a realistic idea. The plane tickets (which we were waiting to purchase until we were sure) were not exactly cheap, and we had no idea what to expect traveling internationally with an infant. Also, there was the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. These are scary times, y’all. Ultimately, we decided we had to go, and so we got our little guy’s passport (there is nothing cuter than a baby passport photo), bought him a pair of noise canceling headphones, and booked our tickets.
I’m not gonna lie — I was nervous as fuck about the plane ride. 12 hours in the air with a baby who had never flown before. We’ve all been on planes with a screaming baby. I reaaaaaally didn’t want that to be MY baby.
We planned ahead, and booked the bulkhead seats on the airplane, and reserved the airline’s hanging bassinet, that gets mounted onto the bulkhead wall. Seriously, whoever came up with this idea is a genius.
We were advised by every friend, family member, doctor, and mom blog to feed the baby on takeoff and landing, to help with the pressure in his ears. Well, let me tell you this — those noise canceling headphones? A MIRACLE. We put them on his head as we were taxiing and he was asleep before we started our ascent, and slept through takeoff completely.
Between the miracle headphones and the bassinet, he slept for about half of the 12-hour flight. The other times, he was a joy! He played a little, looked at his favorite soft book a little, and ate a lot. Honestly, I couldn’t believe our luck. The hardest part of the whole flight was having to change a poop diaper in the teeny airplane bathroom, but there was a fold-down changing table and we made it work!
Once we (finally) got to our hotel, we were exhausted. Between the long flight and the time change, we were all but zombies at this point. We got to the hotel at around 12:30 p.m. local time and discovered that because check-in wasn’t until 2:00, our room was not ready. Thankfully, there was a restaurant in the lobby, so we hunkered down and filled our bellies. The baby started to get fussy in his car seat/stroller, and when I picked him up, it was clear to anyone with a nose that he had a gift for us in his diaper. What became more evident when I looked at him, was that this was a full-on blowout. Like, poop coming THROUGH the pajamas.
I took him to the lobby restroom to find that there was no changing table in sight. Just a single (thankfully deep) sink, with a little bit of counter space on either side. I rolled up my sleeves, literally, and took a deep breath. I put down a disposable changing pad (like one of those wee-wee pads for small dogs) and started to peel off his shitty pjs. It was a fucking poop apocalypse. It was all up his back and down his legs and I wiped him down the best I could and then stuck him in the sink for an impromptu bath.
Finally, I got him all cleaned up, and we got our room keys at last, and went upstairs and napped SO HARD.
The rest of the trip was actually wonderful. Buddy slept pretty decently considering the time change and the strange room. It was waaaaay hotter in Vienna than we had expected, even though we checked the weather every day leading up to the trip. Because of the heat, we didn’t get to do quite as much sightseeing as we had hoped, because the poor kid (and his parents, tbh) just melted in the heat.
When J and I were on our honeymoon in Paris, we got tattoos of a quote from A Moveable Feast, which Hemingway wrote about his years in the city, to commemorate the occasion. So naturally, we decided we had to get tattoos in Vienna to commemorate our first trip as a family.
Yes, I got the miracle headphones tattooed on my body. It may seem trivial, but the significance of the image goes a little deeper for me. On the surface level, the headphones were the first thing we bought for Buddy (not his real name, but how I will be referring to him going forward) when we decided to take a risk and fly 6,000 miles with a baby for a concert (and boy, did he look cute in them). But beyond that, for me it signifies a lot of things: the love that J and I have of music and how this whole adventure started because of a connection to music, and also, something that I haven’t written much about (but plan to soon) is the fact that my son was born with a significant hearing loss, but still responds to certain music and sound cues beyond our expectations, which is pretty extraordinary. It is my hope that music will always be something that he has a passion for and finds meaning in.
Our plan all along was to bring the baby to the concert. We had gotten the A-ok from our pediatrician, ENT, and a hearing specialist, as long as we used the magic headphones to protect him. However, as the day of the show got closer, J and I started having second thoughts. First of all, it was a stadium show, which meant being outside all night, and it was crazy hot in Vienna, even at night. Also, I was very quickly reminded when we arrived that everyone in Europe still smokes — so I was worried about him being in a hot, crowded, smoky stadium. I was worried about myself for the same reasons, if I’m being honest. Finally, our tickets were for the front of stage standing section — which while amazing for us, might be a little crowded for a baby.
Well, divine intervention kicked in and we found out the day of the show, when we walked over to the stadium (our hotel was a 5-minute walk away!) to pick up our tickets at will-call, that they would not allow the baby into the show anyway. Luckily, we had booked a hotel that had a babysitting service. Or so we thought. We got back to the hotel at about 2 p.m. to discover that our hotel did not, in fact, have that service. So now we are hours away from the concert that we traveled thousands of miles for, the experience that meant the world to my husband (and to me that he wanted to share it with me) — and we had no plan for our little man.
We tried to get a room at the other hotel within walking distance that DID have the babysitting service, but they were all booked up. We tried finding a sitter through an online nanny service, but my stomach couldn’t handle the idea of a random stranger staying in our hotel room with our baby. Finally, I remembered that a good friend of mine who grew up in Germany had recently been to Vienna visiting friends. I sent her a message and prayed that she would see it in time, not knowing what time zone she was currently in. Luckily, she got the message and started calling friends to see if someone she knew and trusted would be willing to come hang with our Buddy for a few hours, and in a last-minute miracle, the college-aged daughter of some English-speaking friends who lived in the area was willing and able to help us out. Just to be clear, this was someone my friend knew personally and vouched for. She got to the hotel just as the doors were opening to the show, and we talked her through his feeding schedule and bedtime routine, made sure we all had each other’s numbers in our phones, and went to the show, trying not to worry all night.
The show was incredible, even if we were checking our phones pretty much all night. When we got back to the hotel, Buddy was sound asleep and looking peaceful and happy.
Buddy did so well on our travels, that we even got to take a little side trip. We took a 2.5-hour train ride to Salzburg so that I could nerd out at some of the filming locations from The Sound of Music. I got to see the actual house that the real Von Trapp family lived in, and the gardens where the “Do-Re-Mi” scenes were filmed before the heat took it’s toll on us all and we got a train back to Vienna.
On the way back to L.A., my wonder boy slept for 10 of the 12 hours in the air. Honestly, who could ask for more?
Finally, to the people who told us we would never travel again…I’ll let my son respond to that sentiment in this, my favorite photo from our trip: