Tag Archives: baby 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

How Much Is Your Baby Worth? Ask An Airline

Back in January, a mommy-friend had posted a link on her Facebook page that caught my attention as a mommy that travels with infant a lot. The article, “Oil Prices Don’t Vex Airlines; But Fees Could Rise,” talked about how airlines were likely to start up-charging for more than seat upgrades and checked baggage:

“To offset higher fuel and operating costs, airlines might push through a wave of new fees that are sure to be unpopular. One industry watcher has a lineup that shows how inventive the airlines might be:

Charging for lap-held infants, paying by the pound for checked luggage, fees for carry-ons, and a ‘convenience’ fee to book on the Internet.”

Of course, the whole charging for a lap-held baby thing snagged my attention. Seriously? That sounded absolutely ridiculous to me. And I’m someone that would pay for an extra seat for an infant if I was on a long-haul flight. I mean, anything less than five hours and I’m not going to be bothered with the price of another seat. And anything over eight and it’s almost a must, especially if you’re traveling alone, as I most often am. I mean, what are you supposed to do with a sleeping baby when you have to use the restroom?

Last week I booked an overseas trip to Europe for baby and momma. Given that I was traveling internationally, I would’ve considered booking a separate ticket for baby had it not been for three things:

  1. The flight itself is just shy of my 8-hour rule
  2. The price of tickets was nearly double what I paid last year
  3. It’s a direct flight, so once I’m settled in on the plane, that’s it; I don’t have to worry about a layover

Given those three considerations, I decided it was doable, even by myself, to hold baby on my lap. After all, if I played my cards right, he might be racked out for the night within 90 minutes of the flight taking off.

So, I booked one ticket. As I was checking out online, I noticed that the final price was something close to $160 more than the price was listed online. About $130 was attributable to taxes and fees (I still don’t understand why those can’t just be included in the price when advertised), but there was another random charge:

Gives new meaning to new addition

Yup. Continental now wants to charge me nearly $30 for holding the baby in my lap.

How messed up is that? It’s not like baby is an extra piece of luggage, a superfluous valise full of clothes that you’ll never wear on your trip but you bring anyway. You can’t just choose not to take your baby with you. Not to mention that a mom with a lap-held infant is a good thing for the airlines. It’s a chance to not only sell a seat at a potentially higher price but also to sell as seat to a traveler who might make additional purchases of alcohol, in-flight entertainment, or Skymall junk. Plus, a baby doesn’t complain when there are no more beef meals left.

But I guess in the world of airline business, every additional pound you pack on board has at least a fuel cost and probably some labor cost associated with it, although I would argue that a crying baby takes up less of a flight attendant’s bandwidth than a cranky frequent flier. But how do airlines figure out what to charge is my question.

I mean, how did Continental come to the decision that $28 was the price for a lap baby? Are they charging by the pound? Maybe. I checked the WHO’s growth charts for infants. There may be something to my theory.

On paper, the fair way for airlines to figure out what average weight to factor into their fee calculations would be to just use the average weight for a 12-month-old baby. This would assume that half the babies traveling are under a year old and the other half are 12 to 24 months old. At around a year old, average babies hit the 21-23 lbs mark, depending on whether the baby is a girl or a boy.

However, in reality that may not be true at all. I would venture a guess that most traveling babies are older babies, at least six months if not a year+, when they really start traveling. (My baby being a bit of an exception, of course, given our family situation.)  So, really maybe airlines are guessing that, on average, babies on board are about 18 months old and, therefore, weigh a bit more.

Assuming this is the case, it looks like Continental thinks a baby costs them about $1 per pound to fly.

I don’t know if that seems like a lot or a little. I don’t think I’ve quite digested the fact airlines could, in fact, be charging on an average poundage. And given that this fee is totally new to me, I can’t say whether it’s based on travel distance or not. I haven’t flown Continental domestically recently to be able to compare the infant fees.

But honestly, doesn’t the idea of charging for a lap-held baby just seem wrong? Shoot, sometimes I think the airlines should credit me the $28 to do that.

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

A First in Flight

So, I’ve finally returned from a 10-day whirlwind tour of the East Coast, where I’ve ping ponged my way from Northern New York to North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to Jersey and back with a six-week-old. Traveling with infants… definitely not for the impatient or disorganized (of which I am both).

He's got a ticket to ride

Out of the four different legs of the trip, I was most worried about the flight to North Carolina. I was stressing that baby would totally be that kind of baby that airline passengers don’t feel bad about hating. Think a hot, sweaty, totally over-booked plane meets wailing, screaming, and other forms of inconsolable crying.

But if the truth be told, it wasn’t so bad; the five hour drive from Fayette-nam (Fayetteville, N.C., home to Fort Bragg, for those of you non-military wives reading this) with just baby and me was much, much worse. All things considered, baby’s first flight was fantastic.

Of course a few things helped.

Number one: my mom. Yup, she went with me as my sherpa. She schlepped pretty much everything besides the baby–my carry-on (a.k.a. diaper bag), her purse, cooler pack full of breast milk, dirty diapers, stroller base, etc. I so needed her extra set of hands.

It would seem like with two of us, we’d have everything under control. But all it took was the top to snap off of one of my mini canisters of breast milk and it felt like the wheels were starting to fall off. Of course, then I was reminded of my utter incompetence when I saw a girl probably 10 years younger than I, toting her infant son onto the same flight with what seemed like half the amount of stuff and no mom.

But I digress… my number two savior was the Charlotte USO.

Now, for the non-military readers out there, the USO (United Service Organizations) is a group whose mission is “to provide morale, welfare, and recreation-type services to uniformed military personnel.” That encompasses a lot of things, but one of the cooler things they do for military–and that includes active duty military, national guard, reserves, retired military people, and military families–is operate a number of airport lounges, where people can hang out and rest up before their flights or during a layover.

And there happened to be one in Charlotte, where my mom, baby, and I had a three-plus hour layover.

This was my first time using a USO lounge. In fact, my mom and I had first headed to the US Airways club lounge, armed with her American Express platinum card and a hope that they had reciprocity with card members. (They don’t.) Rejected and wondering where we were going to find a suitable place to hang out (I was probably going to need to nurse given how fast baby sucked down a bottle of pumped milk on the first flight), I suggested we try out the USO.

It took us awhile to find it, but once we did, it was so worth it. The people

The Charlotte USO = Godsend

were so friendly, warm, and welcoming; they showed us every corner of the place from the video message center to the DVD viewing room to the kitchen area (complete with bottled drinks, fresh hot dogs, and other snacks) to the nursery (equipped with gliders, a pack ‘n’ play, and a bunch of toys and books for kids) to the bathrooms with the infant changing station. Our host even thought to tell me that I just needed to let her know if I needed diapers, wipes, or formula. (How awesome is that?)

It was so nice to be able to use the USO to regroup. I was even able to nurse comfortably (I’m still not totally down with whipping out the boob anywhere, anytime) while my mom put her feet up in an overstuffed leather recliner while watching the news and reading the paper.

Now, I realize that a lot of people reading this probably don’t have access to great services like the USO, so here are a few lessons learned:

  • Book a hotel. If you have a very early morning flight, seriously consider getting a room at the airport hotel for the night before. It probably is worth the money because you won’t have to get up so darn early, so your kid is likely to be less cranky, and you won’t have any last minute snafus like a late start, a pit stop for gas, heavy traffic, or flat tire.
  • Good things come in small packages. If you are bringing expressed milk on the plane, consider using smaller quantity canisters. If your bottles are under three ounces, you’ve got a green light to go. If they are bigger, it’s still no big deal–the TSA people will ask you to open the bottles so they can wave this paper strip thing over it and conduct a vapor test–but it will cost you more time getting through security.
  • Bag it. Bring a plastic garbage bag with you. When traveling with itty bitty babies, you will likely have them in their car seat with the clip-in base. (I have the Baby Trend Snap and Go, but there are other brands out there.) This stroller system makes it so easy to get to your gate, particularly if you’ve got luck like mine and you have to change terminals during your layover. But you’ll have to check it at the gate. I put the whole car seat part of the system in a plastic bag before giving it to the runway dude who threw it into the belly of the plan. It may sound strange, but think about how dirty it’s got to be–from the workers’ gloves, to the carts on which the baggage is transported, to the under carriage of the plane. Ewww. Plastic will protect the seat fabric.
  • Double bag it. I went for the bag-within-a-bag as my carry-on and I think it worked out really well. A friend had given me this great oversized, water repellent bag as a baby gift, so I packed that thing full of all my baby and travel essentials. And the bigger the better. I was able to fit my diaper bag, the cooler pack, my giant wallet, and a few other miscellaneous items in the thing and it was easy and compact to carry. Here’s a pic:

A carry-all carry-on

So, thanks to smart packing, planning, and a personal pack mule, baby’s first flight was pretty painless. However, although I’ve lived to tell about it, I’ll say that I wouldn’t exactly say that I’m ready to be a frequent flier family. In fact, I’m trying not to think about the trip to Hawaii that we’ve got planned with baby. (How long is the flight, again?)

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Filed under baby travel, breastfeeding, daily life, infants, moms, newbie parents, newborns, organizing, Uncategorized