When travel writer Ani Shah fell pregnant, everyone told her that her intrepid adventures on the road would be over—for a while, anyway. But she was determined that wouldn’t be the case.
Falling pregnant was never part of the plan. But I was hiking Canada’s Rocky Mountains and bushwhacking Alaska when I felt inexplicably exhausted and realized why.
For any woman, having a baby can be daunting. But as a travel journalist and photographer, who specializes in raw and offbeat destinations, I always felt that very little phases me.
Whether investigating Voodoo in its homeland of Benin, road-tripping through Iran, hiking Madagascan and Rwandan rainforests in search of lemurs and gorillas, circumnavigating the ice-capped Arctic or exploring ancient pagodas in Myanmar, my memorable journeys have been the immersive, challenging ones.
And yet, having a baby felt like staring into the depths of the oceans.
It didn’t help that people kept warning me my intrepid travels would inevitably stop. As women, we’re often told we can’t do things—before being shown a glass ceiling. But nobody could actually tell me why. Never one to take second-hand advice, I started researching. And so our story began.
My baby Gia Sereni has explored 16 countries in her first year, in a phenomenal global voyage. By the time she turns two, she’ll have visited roughly 30 countries on six continents, with only Antarctica remaining. But this isn’t about numbers; it’s about the intrepid destinations and contrasting cultures. Bosnia & Herzegovina, Mozambique, India, Montenegro, Israel and the West Bank, the West Indies, Oman and Rwanda … they all feature in her travel repertoire.
But why travel with a baby? People tell me she won’t remember it, that it’s hardly relaxing and isn’t the upheaval disconcerting? These were questions from our own friends and family.
Neither my partner nor I are traveling nomads. We have a fixed home and careers that we purposely carved out to give us more freedom. He left investment banking to start his own business. I left my permanent post as a BBC broadcast journalist to freelance as a travel journalist and photographer. Naturally, this means I get to travel for work, which I am aware is the utmost privilege. Travel had always been a way of life since childhood, and so I decided to make it my career. We’ve made sacrifices with our choices: Less security and a slender buffer.
But the precious time with Gia Sereni has been unparalleled. To watch her blossom and learn organically from world travels has been nothing short of miraculous.
I can see how the travels are shaping her personality. The big wide world happens to be the greatest teacher—uprooting her, expanding her comfort zones, and gently introducing her to humanitarian and conservation causes I hope will one day become close to her heart.
Research is a parent’s best friend. Medical facilities, branded baby foods and nappies, car seat and pushchair rentals, and general baby-friendliness of a destination are aspects I investigate online beforehand.
Whilst the physical memories will fade, the experiences are already imprinting. And that is quite something to watch. In South Africa, she walked with matriarchal elephants at an orphan rehabilitation center. She touched their trunks, tusks and skin, and this experience has remained with her. In Rajasthan, India, hotel staff taught her to feed wild roaming peacocks—her peacock obsession continues to this day. Most recently, in the heat of Kerala, she disappeared under the table to feed someone’s pet dog water from her beaker.
On a recent trip to Bethlehem in the West Bank, I saw Gia Sereni wander off down an alleyway where local children were playing. We were invited into the family’s living room for coffee.
This social confidence is the single biggest stimulus to keep traveling. She’s deciphered that a smile and tender voice transcend cultural differences, be it the hijab-clad women who played with her in a souk in Oman, the Masai tribes who played games with her in Kenya, or those Israeli schoolgirls who cooed over her in a church. Who knew that a baby was the best icebreaker?
Of course there are downsides such as keeping her occupied when we’re home, as she thrives off new places and faces. And yes, it’s far from easy traveling with a pint-sized human. Honestly, at times I miss traveling alone and having to think of nobody else. I miss the little luxuries such as long lazy breakfasts, random interactions and wandering around local neighborhoods late into dusk.
Spontaneous moments take an entirely different format with a baby. Gone are the whimsical moments, such as dancing all night with locals in a front living room in Ethiopia. For Gia Sereni, I do sometimes worry we push her too hard and expect too much, uprooting places and countries with long flights and travel days.
And logistically, I dislike baggage. Now, with car seat, pushchair, carrier, back-up food, what-if medicines and an entire miniature wardrobe, traveling light is a distant memory. This is made easier on those trips when my husband joins us, but it’s a new travel style we’ve both had to adopt. But I have learned tips and tricks.
I feel world travel is teaching her vital qualities: To spark her imagination and creativity, and to inspire her to be adaptable, open, compassionate and understanding.
Research is a parent’s best friend. Medical facilities, branded baby foods and nappies, car seat and pushchair rentals, and general baby-friendliness of a destination are aspects I investigate online beforehand, checking forums and blogs. For example, our bag of baby medications was minimal for Switzerland or California, but was fully loaded for an escapade in Mozambique, Rwanda and Kenya. Travel vaccinations are checked at a specialist clinic before each adventure. I carry sterilizing and water purification tablets, in case.
The baby carrier was my best present. Having both hands free to wheel luggage, with baby safely napping, restores some semblance of independence. My favorite travel stroller folds into airline overheads to neatly wheel her straight off the plane. Night flights are the ultimate savior for mid and long-haul.
I know that traveling with Gia Sereni won’t last forever, but until her schooling begins, she’ll see as much of the world as possible. The learning on the road is boundless. For my ultra-intrepid work voyages, such as Senegal and South Sudan later this year, she’ll attend nursery at home. This is where a support network is vital. Without the flexibility of my husband’s job and my parents’ availability, I’m aware it wouldn’t be possible.
I feel world travel is teaching her vital qualities: To spark her imagination and creativity, and to inspire her to be adaptable, open, compassionate and understanding. To quote Albert Einstein: “For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.”
My basic principle is this: Foster a love of wildlife, expose them to contrasting cultures, nurture compassion and let them witness your ease with it all. I believe this will stimulate openness, engage her in giving back, and embed a sense of humanitarianism—for me, those are the most enriching by-products of travel. And as a female, she must know no glass ceiling; only the cyclical beauty of opportunity, belief and endeavor.
I know that travel isn’t an all-encompassing prescription. But adventures don’t have to stop with a baby. To gift the spirit of adventure to the next generation is the ultimate privilege.