Category Archives: travel

10 Tips for Traveling with Toddlers

For as much as I traveled with my kid as an infant, traveling with him as a toddler is a whole new ballgame. Or so I learned at times painfully recently during an overseas excursion. Not everything was different–the key was still having enough liquids, snacks, and toys within reach at any moment–but I learned enough new stuff that I think it might be worth sharing my Top 10 insights.

  1. European airports rock. If the children’s play areas in London’s Heathrow airport and the nurseries at the Geneva airport weren’t enough, I can confirm that the airports in Geneva, Rome, and Naples offer priority lanes for parents traveling with children. Brilliant. The catch, though, is that some airports only allow one parent to go through the priority lane. While that kind of stinks for the parent who has to go through the regular security lanes, my experience has been that they move much more quickly than their American counterparts.
  2. There is a no Fly Safe zone. I had first heard about the Kids Fly Safe harness from a friend who swore by it. It seemed genius enough to me–a lightweight, packable, easy-to-install alternative to having to lug a car seat on the plane for a squirmy toddler–so I shelled out for one for our big European adventure. Although the website says its FAA approved and there’s a big section on using the contraption in the U.K., I hadn’t finished adjusting the anchor strap when a flight attendant for our British Air flight came over and asked if I needed help. I told her I was fine; I was just finishing adjusting the harness. At that point, she told me that I was not authorized to use the harness on B.A. flights and would have to remove the device. So glad I paid out the nose for expedited shipping.
  3. Formula is still your friend. I can’t remember the last time my kid touched formula–it had to have been eight months or more–but I threw in a handful of leftover single-serve packets of Enfamil into our mini cooler (that’s still a travel necessity) just in case I got desperate. Turns out we hit a patch of turbulence on one flight that left our flight attendants buckled in their seats just as our kid had a thirst attack that plain old agua couldn’t quench. As he came within an inch of a true toddler meltdown, I frantically scoured my bag for a lone juice box to no avail. Then I remembered the formula packets. A couple of quick shakes to get the powder to dissolve and–voila–we had a happy kid again. (Incidentally, on the juice box thing, Target’s Market Pantry brand carries smaller size juice boxes that meet the TSA’s fluid ounce restrictions–or at least come close enough that no one cared.)
  4. Infant tickets equals infinite problems. After a very rough start to our vacation, we were very careful to arrive super early to all of our inter-European flights. And it was a good thing because, for some reason, our Alitalia tickets never got coded to indicate that one of us would have an infant in arms. I didn’t anticipate this to be as big of a problem as it turned out to be. In the U.S., ticket counter personnel just clack on the keyboard and the additional ticket for baby is spit out. Not so much in Europe. We spent nearly an hour on each leg of our journey to/from Italy waiting for some airline customer service people to execute. At one point, one woman had to pull out a handwritten manual to find directions as to what to do. We also got tagged with a lap-baby fee of 10% of the cost of the ticket–of course not the price I paid online weeks before but what it cost at that moment, two hours before the flight. Awesome.
  5. Don’t get sucked into the romance; public water fountains are nasty. I have seen enough movies set in Italy to find it charming that most Italian cities and villages still have public water fountains, wonderful works of art and sculpture where locals still take pause to wet their whistles daily. And few things can amuse a squirmy toddler more than big chutes of water. So, as my kid was splashing in the fountain, nearly dunking his head under a spigot in an attempt to get a drink, I took pictures to capture this quintessential Italian moment. I regretted it all the next day when my kid came down with some sort of bug that had him throwing up and spiking a serious fever. While I secretly relished having nothing to do other than hang out while our kid basically slept all day–I finally got to read a magazine in peace, stretched out in the sun on a lawn chair with a nice cappuccino–it did significantly cut down on our sightseeing; I think we lost about 2.5 days, all told.
  6. Don’t be ashamed; kid leashes are humane. I was always skeptical about child harnesses. While I could see the practicality, I was never sure about how comfortable I was with them. And then my mother-in-law bought one for us. (I’m pretty sure this is the one she bought, although ours is a much darker brown, so I think it’s cuter.) My husband and I took it for a test run on a weekend in New York City. All it took was being in Times Square at rush hour for us to become converts. I can’t tell you how awesome that thing was every place from the security line at Heathrow airport in London to the winding, cobblestone streets of Amalfi, Italy, where motorbikes and cars zip down alleys most people would assume would be pedestrian only. The bonus was our kid loved the monkey; he wanted to cuddle with it in bed. Needless to say, it was never a problem to get him to wear it. In fact, he asked for it.
  7. For the love of car services. I always considered a private car a luxury. That is, until I started traveling for work and learned that the most reliable way to ensure transportation to the airport in early morning hours in my neighborhood was to hire a car. And it totally opened my eyes. It takes like 75% of the stress out of traveling. And trust me, my sanity is worth the $100 or so it usually costs. So, when I realized that Amalfi was still around 35 or 40 miles from Naples, I went to work on booking a private car. Fortunately, our apartment rental company–Summer in Italy–was awesome enough to have some tried and true suggestions on good car services. Amalfi Car was awesome. We used them several times during our trip and they were reliable, reasonably priced, and totally flexible; they even let us cancel last minute–no charge–when the bambino got sick. Not to mention that we learned that car seats are more of a suggestion than a regulation in Italy, so it was nice to be assured that our kid would be strapped in as we hugged the Amalfi Coast’s crazy curves.
  8. Pennywise and a pound foolish. I’m not all about being stupid with money–lord knows I like a good deal–but I’m at the age where I’ve given up on doing the more complicated thing just to save a buck or two. I don’t get enough vacation days to screw around like that. So, I’m willing to spend a little more for guarantees and efficiencies–basically anything that takes the work out of traveling, especially with impatient children or husbands. So, when I was evaluating apartments to rent on the Amalfi Coast–I assure you, it’s cheaper than you think and you don’t get slapped with all the incidentals–I ended up opting for the slightly more expensive place that had the better view of the sea. And considering we were sequestered in that place for nearly three days when our kid got sick, I was so glad I went for the full sea view rather than partial. That terrace alone made having a sick kid actually palatable. And I can’t even imagine what we would’ve done without wifi, considered an amenity rather than a staple in most European nations.
  9. Pay for the childcare, dammit. I see so many families travel together and it kills me that most parents never actually get a parents-only night out out of the deal. It’s not really a vacation in that case. It’s just an extended stay at a theme park or glorified playground. Most parents who go without a real date night on vacation cite cost as the main factor. But let’s get a little perspective. You’ve just spent thousands of dollars to go on vacation. If $100 is going to break you, you probably shouldn’t be on vacation. The second most-cited reason is that the parents don’t trust strangers to watch their kids. It’s a valid concern–and a one I don’t take lightly. But again, some perspective, please. We leave our kids with strangers all the time–at the gym, at daycare, at birthday parties, at home with new babysitters, etc.–but it just feels more familiar to us. Reputable hotels, resorts, and rental agencies are equipped to deal with this type of request. And let’s be honest. You’re parents. You’re probably not going much further than the hotel bar and you’ll be drooling into your wine glass by 11:30pm–unless you are like us and end up going to a very weird, very young after party with a bunch of semi-local Italian people. But that’s another story. Just get the sitter and enjoy an evening knowing you’ve got no laundry to do and no bed to make in the morning.
  10. Novotel? Do tell. I had always considered the European hotel chain Novotel a bit on the cheap side when it came to lodging choices. Sort of like an Embassy Suites or something along those lines. But I ended up booking us a room at a Novotel near the airport in Geneva because we were arriving from Italy late in the afternoon and leaving fairly early in the morning for the States; the hotel was really close to the airport, had a free shuttle, and was very reasonably priced. After staying there, I can say I thought it was awesome for families. First clue? The lobby had a play area, complete with blocks, books, puzzles and even an Xbox. The restaurant had high chairs–often a rarity in European bistro restaurants–and even a kids menu–even rarer than high chairs. There was a pool, although it was too early in the season to want to use it. But the cherry on top was the playground in the back of the hotel.

So, there they are–the 10 things I didn’t know about traveling with kids that I learned the last go round. And as a bonus tip, I’ll tell you that European daylight savings is not the same day as U.S. daylight savings. Yup, had to find that one out the hard way.

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Filed under toddlers, transportation, travel

Bon Voyage, Baby!

I’ve finally crawled out from the rock I’ve been under. It’s felt like forever. And kind of like exercise, it takes a lot of motivation to try and get back onto a blogging schedule after a hiatus. Fortunately, I’ve been MIA because I’ve been having fun rather than avoiding my life. Or more exactly, I spent one week preparing to go on vacation, two weeks on vacation, and about two weeks plus trying to get back to normal life. Seriously. I only finally put the suitcase back down in the basement last night.

A two-week vacay to France and Italy would sound like a dream to many. But as soon as I drop in one not-so-tiny-anymore detail–the baby–that dream would dissolve very quickly into a nightmare for most. My husband included. Our plane hadn’t even left the tarmac and he leaned over to me and said, “We’re never going on vacation again.”

Although he was the one who had insisted we travel with the baby, I will cut him a break and say he had no idea what he was getting into. He’d actually never traveled by plane (or car, for that matter) for any distance with him before. That was clear as he was packing entertainment items (earphones, iPad, DVDs, etc.) and I was strategically stuffing toys, snacks, and diapering items into every free inch of carry-on space.

And if I’m totally honest, the trip did not really start out on a good note. I got out of work late and there was an unplanned, hour-long detour to my husband’s work to get some paperwork signed. But the stress went through the roof when we arrived at the kennel and it was closed. Whoops. I forgot to double check the hours. Minor detail?

I’ll spare you the frantic details of the couple of hours leading up to our flight and leave it that my husband did ultimately make the flight after racing to find an alternative dog boarding situation on the fly, albeit he arrived soaked with sweat and disdain for me. I believe the first thing he said to me when he sat down was, “Don’t talk to me.”

If only the crumb cruncher could’ve understood that. In the kid’s defense, he was exhausted. It was an 11:30pm flight and he was way past his expiration date. But while I love my child, I will say he was absolutely miserable. We were those people with the inconsolable, screaming child on a plane. I think I might have even tried to clap my hand over his mouth at one point when we passed the 30-minutes of tantrum mark. Eventually the kid racked out (oh, the virtues of that additional seat we purchased). And wouldn’t you know, a couple of vodkas and an Atlantic Ocean later, my husband was talking to me again by the time we landed in London for our layover.

But while I only narrowly missed my own toddler-tantrum-inspired, mommy-meltdown moment on the plane, two weeks overseas with a toddler really wasn’t bad at all. That’s not to say we didn’t have a few “moments” where something was definitely going to give. There were several incidents where our child dramatically threw himself down on the ground, kicking his feet and crying, in several town squares. And a couple bus rides from hell. A near drowning incident. And a nasty, fever-y, vomit-inducing bug that kept us pretty much sequestered in an apartment for three days.

But it was also really fun. Having a kid in tow while traveling forces you to slow down and just enjoy the little things. As much as the panoramic views from the top of Mont Blanc or the gardens of Ravello, some of my favorite vacation memories are ones where we were just hanging out, watching our kid have fun with other kids. He had a blast with a boatload of kids at playground in Chamonix; he got silly with a little Giovanni at the airport in Rome; and he totally endeared himself to a mom and daughter on the beach in Amalfi by collecting rocks for them. More than most adults, kids are so not afraid to mix it up with the locals. Playground fun is so universal it totally transcends language barriers.

But I also really think it was good for the kid to hear strangers speaking other languages. The first day, I swear he had a little lightbulb going off about the fact that he could understand French people. And it cracked me up that he started making more “French” sounds. For example, the sound a firetruck makes in French is “pin-pon, pin-pon.” And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it melted my heart that on our last day in Italy, the kid started saying, “Ciao!”

So, would I do it again? Absolutely. Sure, I made some travel faux-pas, but hopefully I can learn from them so the next trip will be even better. But overall, I can’t complain.

My husband, however, has a different take. After two wonderful weeks abroad, I asked him on the plane home, if he’d want to do another family vacation anytime soon. “Nope,” he said. “I was serious when I said we’re never going on vacation again.”

We’ll see about that.

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Filed under toddlers, travel

Why Car Seats Might Be One of the Worst Things for Kids’ Health

I absolutely hate removing my car seat from its rightful spot in the back of the car, mostly because it’s an endeavor that that usually leaves me sweating and exasperated enough to have to dial for back-up to get it back into the car correctly. I also hate it because it’s confirmation that, yes, my car seat is just as nasty, if not more so, than I had imagined.

And it’s not like I don’t try to keep it as clean as possible. I brush my kid’s car seat free from crumbs and other debris nearly every time we use it. And about once I week I probably take a rag to it to try to rub out obvious stains. But it’s when I actually get the time to do a deep clean that I start to really get grossed out. Because for as much as moms focus on  health and cleanliness for our babies, spending small fortunes on products like hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes, and immune boosting vitamins, the car seats we put our kids in day in, day out are crawling with germs.

Or at least I know mine is.

My first step in de-grubbing the car seat is always just to get the darn seat out of the car, which comes with its requisite huffing, puffing and pushing, pulling to get it free. Immediately, I remove the cover and hose it down while aggressively going at the crumbs smooshed into every corner and crevice with a hand-held scrubber brush. (Sometimes I also just throw it in the washer.)

Once the cover is hanging up drying somewhere, I move on to the actual seat. It also gets the hose and a soapy water rubdown. I’ve learned that I need to actually flip the seat upside down and spray the bottom as well to be sure it gets really clean. Why? Because sometimes stuff like this is hanging out under the seat:

Ewwwwwww!

Yes, that is a Wheat Thin stuck to some gunk that probably was milk at some point. I still don’t understand how this stuff managed to harden into a solid and adhere itself to the underside of the seat, but it did.

Next, I move on to cleaning up the back seat. Also disturbing:

Yuck!

This stuff actually required scrubbing to remove it. But it’s curious to me how much stuff ends up under the seat given how much seems to end up either in baby’s belly or all down the front of him.

And of course the door:

Not so yummy

It sort of freaks me out when I think about how many germs the typical coffee cup contains, you know, the ones that kind of hang out in people’s cubicles never getting a truly thorough washing. So, when I see this, my inner germ-a-phobe comes rushing to the surface. Can this really be healthy for our kids?

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Filed under babies, baby travel, car seats, cleaning, daily life, health, hygiene, transportation, travel

On the Road (Again)

I’ve been more than 1,700 miles since Friday, so I haven’t had too much time to post. My apologies.

While I most often travel with my wee one in tow, this time, given my rather packed schedule, I decided not to bring him. Although I know I made the right decision–and was lucky enough to have a Mimi that would take care of him in my absence–I kind of missed him. I mean, I was totally relieved he was hanging at the River with the grandparents as I got up at 4:30am for my flight out of Syracuse or waited for my delayed flight from Birmingham or ran through the Atlanta airport to catch my next flight or arrived close to midnight in D.C. These are travel realities that quickly become travel nightmares with wee ones.

But while I was down in Alabama, I got a chance to catch up with a mommy friend who showed me my next mommy must-have: the CARES Child Aviation Restraint System.

Her daughter is two and they were headed up to New Hampshire for a week. Given that her sister-in-law had all the gear she’d need once she got there–car seat, stroller, port-a-crib, life jacket, toys, etc.–she really didn’t want to haul a car seat on the plane with her. Even the more streamlined convertibles are giant and a pain when you’re lugging a bunch of stuff. So, this contraption, is basically a 5-point harness system that works with the existing airplane seat and seat belt to keep your kid strapped in. The bonus is that it weighs like a pound and can be stuffed into your purse. (So much better than a 20-pound car seat that needs its own set of wheels to be maneuvered around the airport.) The sheer convenience, to me, makes this worth the $75 that the contraption costs. And when you consider that you’re already paying for an extra seat at this point, I think it sounds pretty darn reasonable.

But more than that, it works. My mommy friend, in the middle of an absolute travel nightmare (yes, she was in Atlanta), had this comment to share on Facebook:

“For all travel savvy moms out there, the Kids Fly Safe aircraft restraint by Cares is fantastic!! Completely eliminates lugging a big car seat through the airport and is a breeze to install!”

So, glad to know that at least one part of her journey was easy. But if you’re a mommy looking for more info, here’s a news segment on airline safety for infants and toddlers that features the seat safety harness. I’m not about ready to poo-poo the lap baby, as the segment advocates–has anyone checked out ticket prices lately?–but I thought this was a fantastic option for a tour de toddler.

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Filed under babies, baby gear, baby travel, travel

The Ultimate Guide To Traveling with Baby

I have few mommy friends that travel as much as I do with baby, and even fewer that travel that much by themselves with baby. But when I get a chance to connect with the select few who do, I’m always interested to see how they manage on their own. I have found a system that works for me, but I’m never quite sure whether there are more efficiencies to be gained.

So, when my grad school friend decided to check out of the West Coast for a few weeks in favor of a whirlwind East Coast tour with her son, nearly a full-fledged toddler, I was excited to learn that she was planning a pit stop in D.C. Not only could I not wait to see her, catch up on all the news, and, of course, meet the not-so-wee-anymore one for the first time, but I was super curious to see how she managed when traveling long distances with baby.

My friend is a very efficient traveler by nature. But having a baby in tow is definitely challenging this aspect of her. I actually got a message from her a few days before her flight, telling me that she was trying to get all her and baby’s stuff into a suitcase small enough to carry on. It was a very admirable goal, one that I admittedly have toyed around with and failed at achieving, so I was prepared to be seriously impressed (and take notes) if she did indeed edit their accoutrement to fit into a carry-on suitcase.

Despite her greatest efforts, it didn’t happen. But maybe that was a blessing in disguise. Even if it cost her the $25 or so to check her suitcase, she had plenty enough else to deal with–baby, stroller, diaper bag/purse, and car seat.

When she told me she was going to bring her car seat, I really started paying attention. I have only bothered with bringing the car seat on my travels when baby was in his infant car seat. I could clip the seat into his Snap ‘n’ Go stoller and then leave it all at the end of the jet bridge before boarding the plane. No biggie. But now that baby is bigger, there are no simple clip-in solutions like the Snap ‘n’ Go.

To date, I’ve always found a way to work around lugging the bigger car seat. When we went to El Paso, we rented a car seat from the car rental company. Contrary to rumor, the car seat we ended up with was the exact same one as one of the car seats we own. And it was new–or nearly so. It was still wrapped in plastic and in mint condition when we got it out of the trunk. When we went to Chamonix, the shuttle service from the Geneva airport supplied infant car seats and then we traveled by foot, train, or bus after that, so no seat was necessary. And then when we went to South Carolina, Ian’s mom decided to just buy a cheapie car seat to have for such occasions. It was going to get additional use from some of the other grandbabies that would sometimes visit.

Needless to say, I do everything I can to avoid having to sherpa the car seat. And I still feel like I’m totally bogged down. So, I had to find out how my friend managed. Turns out it looks something like this:

Streamlined for sanity

The thing I want to most highlight is how she deals with the car seat on top of the stroller, roller bag, and shoulder bag. Basically she just uses a bungee cord to strap the car seat to the stroller frame. It’s pure genius.

I mean, I think I would’ve have found a bag/cover for the car seat and tried to slide a handle over the telescoping handle of my roller bag. Of course, with my luck, it would be flapping around, throwing the whole bag off balance and making me struggle. But the bungee method is so much more secure. She just nestled a front edge of the seat under the stroller so it had some bottom support, stretched the bungee cord around the stroller and seat, clipped it to the back of the stroller and–voila, voila, voila–momma is good to go.

Granted, even with this innovative thinking, traveling with an infant is still not easy. Most umbrella strollers, which are a travel must given their compactness, have two separate handles over a single bar. This makes steering the baby vehicle significantly more difficult with one hand, especially when you are running to your gate, as I most often am. The other hand is usually busy dragging the roller bag with diaper bag sitting on top.

But we’re all about efficiencies here, so I thought this was some seriously smart travel thinking and figured I should share with other mommies trying to sort out out how they are going to take everything they need on their next trip. Happy packing!

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Filed under babies, baby travel, daily life, infants, newborns, travel

The Joys of Being a Breastfeeding Mommy (and Other Misadventures)

A random text from a mommy friend inspired me to finally write this post that I’ve been meaning to write for awhile. Like me, she’s a working mom who’s trying to balance her work responsibilities while breastfeeding her infant daughter (and take care of a toddler!). Her note, typed from the airport, went something like this:

I have redefined “hot mess.” I’m in Newark (dirtiest airport in New England). My meeting ran over so I did not get to pump before I left the office. My boobs are like rocks. I paid $100 to upgrade to first class so I could skip to the front of the security line. There’s no “family” bathroom, so I stand in line in this filthy bathroom, go into the handicap stall and start pumping. The battery on the pump dies after about two sucks, so now I’m committed and in pain. I stand in the loo, change the batteries while holding pump to boobs (no luck) for 30 minutes then hand pumping with milk dripping on the floor and my clothes, sweating, because who puts A/C in a public bathroom. I’m not able to touch anything because it’s unsanitary to say the least–for 4 blessed ounces of white gold and the elimination of stripper boob. At least it only got on my pants and not my white shirt. Happy Tuesday!

Days like that are ones where you are amazed that you even made it through. Fortunately you can always curse your husband for not being able to help you and then text a mommy friend and finally begin to see the humor in it all.

For as much as traveling with an infant poses some challenges, traveling without your infant when you’re still breastfeeding brings up a whole other set of issues.

First of all, it screws up your efficiency. I’m an efficient traveler to begin with, but when I travel for work, I’m super streamlined. Checking a bag is never an option. In fact, I get annoyed when the airlines make me check my bag planeside. So, the fact that as a nursing mommy you have to bring along a cooler of some sort and your pump really kind of throws your equilibrium off. Business travelers and boob bags don’t really mix.

But somehow you figure out how to make it doable even if it’s not ideal. During my last business trip, for example, I ended up bringing a smaller cooler that was able to be tucked into a larger carry-on bag. The smaller cooler meant fewer bottles and fewer bottles meant that at some point during my trip I had to dump some of my precious white gold. It was tragic–a mommy friend likened it to throwing a piece of heirloom jewelry in the trash–but it was a price I was going to pay to not have to pay to check a bag or waste time waiting for my bag at baggage claim.

I also bagged bringing gym clothes–who was I kidding anyway? Any free time was going to be spent pumping–and found a way to get away with a single pair of heels in order to fit my pump and its accoutrement in my suitcase. Of course, for all my carefully packing, I forgot essential work equipment like my camera and batteries for my Flip cam, but that wasn’t the end of the world either.

The other thing I made sure I did was book at a nicer hotel so that I could be sure that I had a mini fridge in my room. Out went the mini bottles of Smirnoff and Johnny Walker and in went plastic bottles of white gold. And being at the nicer hotel also had an additional perk. Rather than spend  my time running back and forth from the convention center, I just booked nearly all of my meetings in the hotel’s restaurants and lounges, which meant I had an executive-worthy venue to have my meetings and could easily hop the elevator up to my room to squeeze in a pump between meetings.

The pump part that was out to get me

But for all this willing to make being a working and lactating mommy work, there are always these mishaps akin to what my friend experienced today. For me, the small plastic piece that connected the pump to the tubing somehow got chipped in my bag during my travels. That meant that my only hope of using the pump was if I stuffed my thumb  into the hole to create enough of a vacuum to get the thing to suck. And at that point only one tube was operational, so it was going to take twice as long to pump every time I had to pump. Again, not exactly an ideal situation, but workable.

I did that for a day or so before I got the brilliant idea that if I stuck a piece off gum in the hole, I could plug it up and get the pump to work and also free one hand to at least type an e-mail or change the channel. Let me just say bad idea. After that experiment failed, I was left with a pump that was totally useless. And there was no time to order replacement parts from the manufacturer. By the time I paid the gazillion dollars for expedited shipping, I’d be on my way home. Plus, what was I going to do in the meantime anyway?

At this point I remember there being a section in my breastfeeding bible, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, on hand expression. Of course I didn’t read it, but I do remember there being a line in the book somewhere about how every nursing mother should learn how to hand express. I remember thinking, “Why in the heck would I ever need to do that?” Apparently I’m either not very forward thinking or very imaginative (or both) because suddenly I found myself in Orlando on a business trip needing to teach myself how–or end my career as a breastfeeding mom.

So, after a little trial and error, I figured it out. It’s really not that hard, but

The back-up plan

the process definitely made me feel more like a cow than I felt before. That didn’t seem possible at the time, but it was so very true.

But like most of the other setbacks I’ve encountered as a newbie mommy, I survived after having learned a thing or two the hard way. My advice? Go out and buy a hand pump to take along with you. I bought an Evenflo SimplyGo manual pump so I’d never be stuck again.They aren’t expensive and are surprisingly efficient even if your hand can get tired.

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Filed under babies, breastfeeding, daily life, feeding, lactation, travel, working mom

11 Lessons in 10 Days

Baby and I have been repatriated after a wonderful 10 days in Chamonix, France. The weather was mostly more than cooperative, confirmed by a friend who said that both baby and I got some color on our faces; the food delicious (I am pretty sure I ate my weight in charcuterie, fromage, escargot, and soupe à l’oignon); and the company even better.

But I’m not going to lie, my travels with infant weren’t without their stresses. Just to give you an idea, my trip started out with me sitting in my car in what most certainly was the furthest parking lot from the airport terminal in a torrential downpour, debating whether I should wait the rain out or just suck it up and get soaked. Of course it had been 50+ degrees and partly sunny when I left the house, so my Gortex was happily packed in the bottom of my suitcase. I decided to crawl into the backseat and nurse baby while I debated my options. After 15 minutes and no signs of letting up–actually I think the rain started to cascade harder–I decided to just make a run for it.

Run is actually a funny word to use because as any mommy traveling by herself with infant knows, you’re not going anywhere fast. Not when you have a kid strapped to your front, you’re dragging a suitcase with your diaper bag that you’re pretending is also a purse hooked on top, and, in the other hand, you’re trailing a folded up umbrella stroller behind you. Did I mention the small, soft-sided cooler that I had slung over my shoulder? (Sadly, this is efficient for this stage in life.) If I didn’t feel pathetic enough, I certainly did after a man in a wheelchair tried to help me into an elevator.  (True story.)

We lived to tell about it, that’s for sure, so that’s a good thing. And all the stress of the logistics of getting there and back were well worth the good times we had in France, so we’d no sooner book another mommy-and-me overseas adventure in a heartbeat. But all that’s not to say that I didn’t learn a few things. Here are my Top 11 travel tips for mommies traveling overseas with infants, particularly those traveling without an extra set of hands.

  1. Travel on off days. Seriously, if you are planning to have your baby on your lap, it’s worth the extra day of vacation that you will burn to travel on a slow travel day. I traveled out on Sunday and back on a Wednesday and had the luxury of an empty seat next to me on both flights. I am not exaggerating one bit when I say I don’t now I could have done it otherwise, particularly on the return flight, which was 9 hours in the middle of the day, without that luxury. At nine months old, he was crawling and squirming all over the place, so it was fantastic to be able  just strap him into the seat, throw the tray table down, and give him a few toys.
  2. Don’t try to travel like you’re still in college. This means forget the whirlwind tours; don’t try to do three cities in a week. Just pick a really good place that you can make home base and take day trips from there. It’s hard to think like that when there are so many new places to explore, but it will be a more enjoyable trip if you can actually relax and aren’t trying to cram baby into your sightseeing schedule.
  3. Opt for the apartment. If you’re going to be someplace for a week or more, consider renting an apartment over staying in a hotel. Just having access to laundry machines and a kitchen are worth it, even if it costs a bit more, which often isn’t the case. The random three diaper blowouts my kid had in a single day underscored this for me. Plus, many property managers will include things like portable cribs (with bedding), high chairs, and even strollers, if requested. (Score!)
  4. High chairs are an issue.We may be used to every Applebee’s, TGIFriday’s, and Ruby Tuesday’s having highchairs galore, it’s not that way in Europe. I was pleasantly surprised by how many restaurants in

    Perfectly portable

    Chamonix actually had high chairs, but the quality, safety, appropriateness, and availability of them were most often in question. For this reason, I packed my trusty Phil and Ted’s Me Too portable high chair. This thing is seriously awesome.  It hooks on to nearly every table or counter top with a pair of heavy-duty clamps, is really sturdy, and it packs flat. (Bonus!) Of course, the one time I really, really needed it, the table top was too thick so it wouldn’t hook on, which brings me to No. 5…

  5. Never underestimate the power of the scarf.I don’t care what

    Big scarfs are the best

    season you’re traveling in, bring a big, long scarf, if you are traveling with a baby. (Think the size of a pashmina.) Not only are they chic, but I used mine as a pillow, a nursing wrap, a blanket for baby when the wind suddenly kicked up, and even as a child restraint in a high chair where the risk of him slipping through the bottom was high thanks to a lack of safety straps or anything close to resembling them. (Let’s just say a shopping cart seemed more secure.)

  6. Don’t expect your baby to stick to his normal schedule. Jet lag is really hard on the wee ones. For example, we were dealing with a six hour time difference and my bundle of boy started out going to sleep around his normal time (local), but then slept until nearly noon the next day. For three days in a row. By the eighth day, he was waking up around 9:30am (local), which was two hours later than his “normal” wake up. Feel free to disagree, but trying to sightsee with a cranky baby doesn’t sound like much fun to me, so I say let them sleep and do what you can when they can.
  7. Dare to deviate on the nap schedule. This tip runs along the same lines as No. 6. I know this is hard for some super-regimented moms to even fathom, but I’ll just be blunt and say that if you’re that kind of mom and still want to travel (and have fun), you had better loosen up. I don’t know about you, but I find that part of the fun of traveling is eating. But trying to have dinner at 7pm or 8pm at a restaurant with a jet lagged baby who normally is in bed at 7pm (remember other cultures don’t necessarily serve an early-bird special) poses some meltdown challenges. So, to have a more enjoyable meal out, I would feed, bathe, and pajama baby as usual, but him down early–like at 6pm. I’d let him nap until 7:30pm or so, then pack him up and put him in the stroller and take him to the restaurant with us. Be sure to pack plenty of snacks or make good use of the bread basket and, above all, stay close to home base in case there’s a real meltdown that requires you to book on home.
  8. Have fun with food.This is sort of a takeoff on No. 7, but enjoying

    Bon appetit!

    new foods shouldn’t just be a traveling perk for you. So, don’t bring all the food or diapers or wipes that you could possibly need for a week or 10 days. It’s not worth the work of carrying all that stuff, especially when you are traveling alone. Just bring enough to get you through a few days until you can buy stuff on site. Not to mention when you buy locally, you can introduce your baby to some new flavors. Just check out what the French consider appropriate for those babies 6+ months: apples with kiwi and pineapple, couscous with veggies, and salmon with rice and green veggies. My kid also downed a few croissants and Petit Beurres, which are wonderful French delectables.

  9. Bring hand sanitizer. I won’t go into details, but I’ll say that you

    Nasties no more

    shouldn’t expect Baby Koala changing stations wherever you go. I went into one public restroom that advertised a baby changing station and came out within 30 seconds, telling my mom and aunt that I would rather have my kid sit in his own feces for another hour+ than change him in that bathroom.

  10. Yes, you will be able to use the bathroom on the plane. So, the en-route changing station question isn’t that big of a deal. There will be one bathroom near you on the plane that has a changing station, if not every bathroom on the plane. (It’s above and behind the toilet.) It’s small (my kid barely fit on it), but it’ll get the job done. The real issue when traveling with infant is what you are going to do when you need to go to the bathroom but baby doesn’t need a diaper change. On my outbound flight, I had one very nice woman across the aisle from me (three kids of her own) ask me if I wanted her to hold the baby so I could go the bathroom. I’m not going to lie. This sounded very tempting, after having tried one strategy earlier where I kept the changing station down with the baby on top and held him while I tried to bend and scoot underneath to do my business. (Not recommended.) But for as good as that sounded, honestly, I didn’t know how it would look if I just handed my baby over to a stranger. (She did seem nice and where was she going to go?) I declined and tried a different strategy. Yes, I actually sat him on the floor of the airplane restroom. He was fine–turns out the toilet paper is right at eye level and can be pulled out and ripped up very easily–but I was pretty much disgusted with the fact that my kid was on the floor of a nothing more than a slightly less stinky PortaJohn. (This is why you need to heed No. 9.) But these are the types of choices you will have to make, so just try not to let germs ruin your vacation.
  11. Let people help you. For people like me, who are used to not only doing things their way but doing them completely on their own, this is a tough one. But it’s important to realize that, when traveling with an infant, letting someone share your burden doesn’t mean you are a failure. So, let that really nice, generous person who offers to carry your diaper bag on or off the plane do it. Everyone knows you can do it, but why not save yourself a little bit of effort?

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