Travels with a toddler: It can be done

LA Times | Travel

My boss handed me a fortune cookie on my last day of work. \"Ideas that may seem absurd ultimately lead to success,\" read the tiny slip of paper. It was an omen for what was to come. Just days after cleaning out my desk, I began an around-the-world trip with my wife, Amber, and our 16-month-o...

By Mike Morris // 02.04.09

My boss handed me a fortune cookie on my last day of work. "Ideas that may seem absurd ultimately lead to success," read the tiny slip of paper.

It was an omen for what was to come. Just days after cleaning out my desk, I began an around-the-world trip with my wife, Amber, and our 16-month-old daughter -- something that sounds crazy but turned out to be quite the opposite.

After our daughter, Ediza, was born, I started getting the itch to travel, and Amber agreed that's what we should do -- although many people told us our days of freedom to travel were over.

We refused to accept that and began planning our cross-continent trek, which took us from hiking pristine mountains in New Zealand to running a marathon along the Great Wall of China to swimming in the turquoise waters of the Greek islands.

All with a baby.

We raised some eyebrows as a globe-trotting family. Throughout the trip, people would tell us how lucky we were and how they wished they could do something similar.

"You can," we would reply. "You just need to be willing to step out of your box, your comfort zone and take some risks."

You also need money, but not as much as some might think. Our entire trip, from airfare to souvenirs, cost less than $30,000.

Questions about the topic were nonstop: How can you afford this? Did you win the lottery? Receive an inheritance? Are you being sponsored by some adventure company?

The truth is we just worked hard and saved our money for something that was important to us -- travel.

Our first stop was New Zealand, whose reputation for safety and cleanliness made it an obvious choice (not to mention that it has some of the best playgrounds around). We spent the bulk of our trip, three months, there.

We had an unusual connection that we traded on. Because our home is a llama farm near Yosemite National Park, we contacted a New Zealand llama association to trade work for lodging.

Arrangements made, we flew from Los Angeles to Auckland and began our six-month journey. Amber, who trains llamas, did most of the work, such as shearing the animals and clipping their nails, while I had quality time watching Ediza. It was a good way to turn a hobby into an affordable vacation.

At each of the homes we visited, we were hosted by generous people who took us in and showed us their way of life. We also experienced some unexpected perks, such as a private airplane ride around the top of New Zealand's South Island.

One farm north of Auckland even named a newborn baby llama after Ediza.

Once it was time to say goodbye to our New Zealand friends, we boarded a flight to China and met up with our tour group for the Great Wall Marathon. Later that week we walked the ancient wall as a family and two days after that I ran the intense yet inspiring 26.2-mile race.

Training in a country as hilly as New Zealand, along with chasing after Ediza, had helped increase my stamina. Even so, trying to climb up nearly vertical, knee-high steps after running 21 miles was brutal.

While in China we were treated like celebrities, compliments of Ediza, whose blond hair was a novelty. People would crowd around us on the streets and take pictures of her with their cellphones, often giving her gifts. We were even coerced off the street into a photography studio for a baby photo shoot, complete with colorful plastic balls and pink rose petals. The owners told us they wanted the pictures for a future window display.

During our week in China, we stayed at posh hotels in Hong Kong and Beijing, along with a modest hotel in a more rural part of the country.

With the 26.2-mile race behind me, we left China bound for the birthplace of the marathon -- Greece. The third leg of our trip, six weeks in Europe, took us from a quaint cliff-top village on the Greek island of Sifnos to Italy for a stay at a stylish loft in Milan and then up to Switzerland for a week in the Alps.

From Switzerland we took a total of five trains to Paris, where we rented an attic apartment in the Bastille. Instead of sipping cappuccinos at cozy cafes, our Parisian days were spent on carousel rides at the base of the Eiffel Tower and on the teacups at Disneyland Paris.

Traveling with a baby, we found, can have its challenges -- including the awkward diaper changes and getting through airport security. (To make this easier, we'd condensed our luggage to one bag each.) But it also has its advantages, such as countless strangers initiating conversations with us and Ediza traveling for free most of the time.

From pricey Paris, we took another high-speed train to southwest France to visit a couple who found us online.

During our trip we kept a blog (, which they read and used to contact us. They kept us on a busy schedule visiting tourism offices, posing for photos that ran in two local newspapers and touring a family-run Cognac house and an underground church.

We then headed up to Amsterdam, spending a week in an artsy apartment and exploring the city by bicycle. For our last weekend abroad, we flew to London and then made our way to the Washington D.C. area, where we stayed two weeks with my parents in Maryland.

On the East Coast, we enjoyed America's favorite pastime -- more specifically, a Baltimore Orioles baseball game -- and took an Amish buggy ride.

Nine flights into our trip, three of them 12 hours long, we took two more to get us back to California in July.

We spent about a week in the Sierra foothills before concluding our journey with a backpacking trip to our daughter's namesake, Lake Ediza. With our global adventure having come full circle, I couldn't help but have a recurring thought: The fortune cookie was right.