Babies: a reason to travel

Thai baby

Ko Phangan, Thailand

Not many years ago (in the grand scheme of things), most of us were in diapers, not yet knowing what country we were from or even what a country. We didn’t yet know we were Christian, Muslim, Skeptical, or whatever. We didn’t know we were Republican or Democrat, male or female, or that we needed to fear and maybe hate one another, or that this might lead us one day to kill or be killed. As babies we looked out at the world with wide eyes, reaching out for anything we could grab, wanting to feel and understand it. We were open to learning and we trusted, even when it wasn’t wise to trust. And then — well, we became adults.

The paragraph and photo above are pulled from my book 30 Reasons to Travel: Photographs and Reflections from Southeast Asia. Others more famous than me have mentioned babies as well. Carl Sandburg, for example, wrote that “a baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.” And this from Vincent van Gogh: “If one feels the need of something grand, something infinite, something that makes one feel aware of God, one need not go far to find it. I think that I see something deeper, more infinite, more eternal than the ocean in the expression of the eyes of a little baby when it wakes in the morning and coos or laughs because it sees the sun shining on its cradle.”

So what does all this have to do with travel?

First, babies model some of the traits a good traveler might wish to cultivate, particular wonder and an openness toward learning. To prepare for your trip, read a guidebook but also consider sitting down in front of a baby for a few minutes and seeing how they relate to the world. I love the image of a baby grasping for the moon because he or she has not yet mastered the concept of distance.

Second, if you’re traveling alone for an extended period and find yourself feeling down (as I sometimes do), having a local family put their baby in your arms, even for a second, will do more for your spirits that any bottle of beer. Every now and then, at least in the developing world, a family will ask me to hold their baby so they can take a picture of him or her in the arms of a Westerner. I never say no.

We travelers usually don’t wear diapers, but may we have something of the spirit of those babies who do (and those babies who don’t!).

Posted by | Comments (7)  | March 11, 2010
Category: Images from the road, Notes from the collective travel mind, Solo Travel

7 Responses to “Babies: a reason to travel”

  1. Andy Fleming Says:

    Very interesting advice. We continue to try our best to travel and see the world with open eyes, as a baby would. Glad to know there are others doing just the same.

  2. Rebecca Snavely Says:

    Wonderful post! And it reminds me so much of the movie “Babies,” in theatres May 7. I was fortunate to watch a screening to write a review, and it’s a beautiful movie, without commentary or translation, depicting exactly what you wrote about babies taking in the world.

  3. Lisa Edmondson Says:

    Nice idea! My first baby, my little girl, studied every new object before touching it. It took her five complete minutes before taking a bite of the birthday cake set straight before her on her first birthday. My second, my little boy, is curious and responds by touching everything around him immediately. And all this is done with a smile. I think these are both pretty great ways to respond to the world around us.

  4. Joel Carillet Says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    I especially appreciated the juxtaposition of your two kids, Lisa. Good to hear from you!

  5. David Says:

    As someone who thought he would be forever youthful and who is now the father of a one year old daughter; I really loved this post. 🙂

  6. Manda Troutman Says:

    Come by our house some time, I’ll let you hold one of our babies. 😀

  7. Joel Carillet Says:

    I’d actually love to do that sometime, Amanda. You kids may be adults before I get to your neck of the woods though!

    Thanks, David. I hear you!