You might be the sort of person who thinks nothing of booking off for two weeks to trek through the Andes, hire a bush pilot to drop you off in remote Alaska, or spend a couple of lost weekends with the Ladyboys on Sukhumvit Street in Bangkok. Be warned that once you start a family, that part of your life is over, and when it comes time to book plane tickets for your next vacation, you’ll discover the rules have changed completely.
It’s hardly worth pointing out that, unless you’re accustomed to travelling with a caravan of support staff and supplies, your formerly adventurous destinations are the stuff of memory now. Anywhere you’re going will have to be safe and clean, with running water and regular sanitation and access to meals falling into one or more of the following food groups: Pablum, popsicles, breakfast cereal and tater tots. Additionally, as much as you might have enjoyed visiting obscure little museums and walking aimlessly for hours in the antique quarter of a city with Roman foundations, you might have to switch your destination to some place with a well-appointed aquarium with trained seal shows several times daily and a Build-A-Bear outlet.
Even the getting there is going to be different from now on. You might have been the person who could bolt for the exits upon arrival with nothing but a shoulder bag with your book, snacks and iPod, but you’ve been transformed into the harried group struggling down the aisles to your seat with several overstuffed carry-on bags full of toys, books, snacks and extra clothes, in addition to a laptop bag loaded with episodes of Spongebob Squarepants and multiple headphones and a Dora the Explorer doll that will bleat out inanities in Spanish throughout the flight to the visible annoyance of the retired engineer in the next seat.
Most airlines will let you get by without purchasing a separate seat for children under two, but saving money on that extra seat for a couple of years is offset by the certainty that, for the whole of the flight, one or both of you will be holding a child that will eat, sleep, play and fill its diapers while sitting in your lap. You will also be up close and personal when your child explosively regurgitates the strained peas and Cheezies you’ve been feeding it during a bumpy descent in a poorly pressurized Airbus. (I’m painting this scenario from a still-very-vivid memory.) With this inevitability in mind, dress accordingly; I’m thinking gore-tex or PVC. Something washable. With a garden hose.
Once on the ground, there will be no more charming pensions or bed and breakfasts; you’ll be looking at hotel chains like Delta, with long experience in housing families, and reasonable rates for suites where your offspring can sleep while you unwind with hotel cable. That’s right, unless you’re willing to trust your children to sitters provided by your hotel — people who don’t have parents you know personally, for example, and can browbeat when you notice half a bottle of Pernod missing — there’s no more sunset dinners by the harbour to end the day.
Until they either develop your stamina or obsessions, your style will be cramped, but console yourself with the thought that this isn’t forever, and one day, when they’re away at camp or college, you’ll be able to return to the hash bars of Amsterdam or the drag shows in Phuket. Just be prepared for the chance that you’ll run into your kids there, and practise acting shocked in the hotel mirror just in case.