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Essay

Born to travel, now off and running to adventure

By Bonnie Tsui
Globe Correspondent / October 16, 2011

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Last in an occasional series on traveling with baby.

At 7 months, Felix learned to crawl in the Singapore airport. At 10 months, he learned to walk in the Newark airport, en route to Switzerland. Now, at 1 year, he’s off and running. The chase has begun.

People told us early on that the first year of travels with a baby - scream-ready, but sans mobility - would be the easiest. In that respect, they were right. Felix now wanders around planes and trains, exploring with his hands (and putting everything into his mouth). Forget trying to watch a movie or getting a little shut-eye: We are on constant high alert. We pry his fingers from flight attendants’ lunches, snatch him up from the aisles when he toddles too far, and keep him away from automatic train doors.

My husband, Matt, and I joke that when we go on solo business trips now, an 11-hour red-eye flight to London or a four-hour layover in Denver seems positively luxurious; the time is our own to do with what we please. We can snooze or read, or (gasp!) be insanely productive on our laptops. It’s amazing what you can get done without a little man to watch over.

On the other hand, Felix now is a hardier and more inquisitive soul, interested in eating what we eat, excited about new places, and curious to engage with locals. Pureed carrots won’t cut it anymore; he likes curried chicken and rice and gelato in a cone. He likes going to the beach and putting his face in the sand. In other words, he has become a real traveler.

The real traveler has preferences. He doesn’t like to be awakened on red-eyes. He prefers not to wear a seat belt. He wants room to roam around and no one interfering with his stuff. He likes tasting menus, and would prefer to have what you’re having. (Always.) Three-hour marathon meals at seaside Italian restaurants, even if they are Michelin-starred, are too long - unless there are breaks between courses to play on the lawn.

The real traveler gets bored, and cranky. In an excursion to the green expanse of Jiva Hill Park in Crozet, France, we were forced to order room service instead of eating al fresco on the inviting outdoor terrace. The snowy limestone peaks of the Jura Mountains served as a lovely backdrop, but, sadly, we didn’t get to look at it. In some cases, containment is a grave necessity.

But in general, the real traveler likes grass and flowers, the wind in his face, and water lapping his feet. He enjoys terrain changes. Mountain lakes are great for swimming, but the ocean is really something. The worst thing in the world is being held by someone who is sitting.

Which makes trains and planes a challenge. But always we keep moving: bringing a ball along on a train ride through the Swiss Alps, setting him free on the cobbled stones of a pedestrian piazza for exercise, hiking up the Sacro Monte overlooking Italy’s glittering Lake Orta as a never-fail lullaby to naptime.

As our child grows from baby to boy, the list of items to schlep has changed. We can still travel far with carry-ons. The car seat has gotten bigger, but it can also double as a stroller with a handy wheeled attachment (the Travelmate, which fits most every car seat and turns it into a roller). We have graduated to a lightweight Deuter frame backpack for hands-free carrying. Clothes still take up minimal space, and we simply bring enough diapers to make it through the trip.

When Felix was born, Matt and I worried that we would never travel again. So we made a pact to just do it, and we did. In the last year, we have traveled more - and farther - than we had thought we would: making laps cross-country, up and down the California coast, to Canada, to Asia, to Europe.

If the definition of adventure is something exciting or unusual, my son is always up for one. It’s a joy to watch his face as he experiences something new - reading the changes like an always-moving picture book. Even at home, there are adventures around every corner: the recycling truck rumbling down the street, a juicy bite of nectarine, a walk to the neighborhood grocery store.

In short, we have kept moving. I like to think that, actually, we have never traveled so far.

Bonnie Tsui can be reached at www.bonnietsui.com.