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Discovering the World with a Baby on Board

Tag: babies

Flying Transatlantic with a Baby

Waiting for the flightI am happy to report that what I thought would be a journey through Hades ended up being a relatively pain-free experience. Of course, I didn’t sleep for 24 hours, but I also didn’t have a crying baby as we made our way from Munich to Madrid and Madrid to Miami, followed by a 45-minute car ride to Ft. Lauderdale. I would love to chalk it up to some magical mommy secrets, but I think it has most to do with having a baby who is still only 7 months (other, slightly older babies on the plane definitely gave their lungs a workout during the entire flight), and a baby who really loves to be on the road and around new people.

The Madrid airport

The Madrid airport

However, there are definitely a few secrets for easier international travel that I discovered on this journey, which I will share in a moment. But, first I want to give a special shout-out to the Madrid airport, aka the Googleplex of transit buildings, aka heaven on earth. Not only is it an unbelievably modern and beautiful complex, with curvy, Gaudi-inspired wood beam ceilings, ultra yuppie restaurants (i.e. the Evian café), and colorful seating areas with ample free charging stations, but it also has an enormous Madrid's kids playroomKID’S PLAYROOM! This child oasis is stocked with mats, toys, books, playpens, a crawl-through castle, rocking horses, a room with cribs in it, a kitchen for baby food, a child toilet area, changing tables, and even baby baths. After foggily booking our flight after a night of little sleep and mistakenly choosing a route with a six-hour layover in Madrid, you can only imagine Cribs in the playroommy relief when we hit this VIP’est of the VIP lounges (forget the business lounge with free drinks and food, for a parent this is the ultimate relaxation room while waiting for a flight). And, it wasn’t bad for my baby either! After he had woken up at 4 am, sat through a long car ride to the airport, waited for 2 hours for our flight and then embarked on a fuss-free first leg of our journey, he had more than earned some uninterrupted, non-distracted playtime with his parents.

Baby Playtime Baby Playtime

 

Refreshed from our playtime and expensive eats at this luxury airport, we then embarked on our second leg of the journey to Miami. I wasn’t thrilled when I saw our seats were in the long middle row towards the back of the plane. But, luckily there was one empty seat in our row, which we promptly converted into a little crib. I can’t say that he slept there the whole time (he is too curious to sleep through such a new experience), but it definitely gave us some free time to watch a movie and rest a little. I mean, it wasn’t the FRONT ROW with a BUILT-IN BABY BASSINET that some other family got, but you gotta work with what you have, not with what you don’t.

So, all of that being said, here are some good takeaways for parents traveling internationally with one or more bundles of (noisy) joy.

1. You are Priority Class everywhere

As I mentioned in my ten tips for traveling with a baby, priority everything is one of the many benefits of being a parent. When we arrived at the airport in Munich and saw the huge line for coach travelers to check in and the business class line with only four people in it, we immediately took the latter route. Feel guilty? Don’t. A baby that doesn’t have to wait around in line for an hour will be a happier plane baby, and trust me, the business class travelers will be grateful for that. We did the same thing going through security and at the passport checkpoint before boarding our flight for the states. In all, I estimate we spent a total of 10 minutes waiting as opposed to the 2 hours or so it would have taken us to get through all of the lines. The key is: don’t ask, just do. If they give you a problem, say ‘sorry, my baby has to eat’ and they won’t ask any more questions. But, not one person even flinched when we stood in those lines, so just go for it.

2. Bring a thin ‘play mat’ in your carry on

Now, we found kiddie heaven in Madrid, so we didn’t need to use our play mat. But, had we been forced to wait 6 hours with no place for our baby to crawl around or stretch out, I don’t think the journey would have been as pain-free. Just in case, I always carry with me a thin little play mat that doesn’t take up too much space but is always there in case we need to lay it on the ground and let him have some fun.

3. Get creative with toys

There is no need to pack a dozen of his or her favorite toys that will only fall on the ground and become unusable (because yuck, plane germs). To a baby EVERYTHING is a toy. Plastic water cups are endlessly fascinating to squeeze and hear crackle, the red security leaflet is almost like a comic book with all of its little safety drawings, and don’t get me started on the new touch screen entertainment centers. As a parent who wants my kid to have little exposure to our addictive devices, I did make an exception for the plane, and boy, did he have a grand old time swiping the screen and seeing new images pop up after he touched it. So, a toy or two is good, but remember, there is a whole new world of discovery in all of the little items found right in the seat pocket in front of you.

4. Get first dibs on front-row seats and other plane perks

Did you know that airplanes have little baby bassinets on hand? I sure as heck didn’t, which is why we ended up having to create our own sleeping space for the little one, because other, more seasoned parents laid claim to them ahead of time. If possible, get your seats in the front row, where no one is sitting in front of you, and on the wall, the flight staff will stick a bassinet for your baby. The key is to ask ahead of time for these seats and bassinets, because they are limited and it’s a dog eat dog parenting world out there.

5. Consider a portable crib

Portable Crib in Suitcase

If you have a baby that is crib-trained and you don’t know if your hotel or rented apartment has a crib on hand, you can always pack a portable crib in your suitcase (given it is a big suitcase). I was pretty amazed to see the usually large crib break down easily into this little portable carry-on, which is super convenient to put back together once you arrive. Now, if I can only muster the discipline to crib train my little one, we might actually use it.

Obviously other tips include bringing formula if the baby isn’t breastfeeding, snacks for the little ones, and layers of clothing due to the extreme heat when the plane AC is off and the extreme cold when it’s on… but most of those are common sense, so I didn’t include them in the numbered list.

Bon voyage and good luck!!

 

Top Ten Tips – Traveling With a Baby

All top ten tip posts you will also be able to find in the top ten page at the top of the blog for easier access.

Plan out your perfect travel day. Now, cut it in half.

I know when you are visiting someplace new, you want to cram in as much as possible and see every single sight recommended by your guidebook. Let me tell you right now, with a kid, that’s not going to happen. Everything with a baby takes longer; it’s a fact of life. So, write down all of the things you would see in a day if you were alone, and then cut out half of them. This will give you a realistic sightseeing goal.

A baby carrier is your best friend. Don’t leave the hotel without it.

Depending on which country you are in, you may not even want to bring the stroller with you. Many sights in a place like Rome are inaccessible with a set of wheels, so a baby carrier will be your best bet. Even if you do bring the stroller out, there may be sights with many stairs or tiny elevators. I have found most restaurants or hotels will allow you to leave your carriage there for a couple of hours so you can just strap the baby to your belly and be on your merry way. This brings us to #3…

Don’t be afraid to play the haggard parent card.

I know, who wants to be that annoying person who goes straight to the front of the line? Or, who has to ask a restaurant to please watch your carriage? Or, who asks for assistance in getting a stroller up the stairs? But, just get rid of that inhibition and you will find traveling is much more fun when you don’t have to do all of the grunt work yourself. So, flash the haggard parent look of misery, march to the front, and take advantage of the few perks that come with the job.

Build in naps.

Everyone is happier when they are rested. That includes babies. Sleeping in the stroller isn’t quite the same as sleeping in their beds, so if possible, build your day around breaks. Get out of the midday sun, take a rest after a long lunch, and get refreshed to enjoy some sightseeing when its cooler and the streets are less crowded.

Avoid tour groups.

Find out when tour groups are out and stay in. Usually around 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. are the busiest tour group times. Now, obviously you won’t be inside the whole time, but schedule your naps within this time period and go enjoy lunch or some obscure site until the crowd thins. This makes getting into top sights much easier and much more enjoyable. Sunset is actually a beautiful time to see sights and it won’t be as hectic as peak tour hours.

Download audio guides.

Unless your baby does really well with tours, I would avoid having to move at a group’s pace to get information on various sites. There are some great audio guides out there (Rick Steves produces many on Europe that you can download for FREE) that will allow you to learn, while not having to worry about needing to stop and feed or change a baby in the middle of the tour. Just connect to wifi at your hotel or apartment rental, download the audio guide you want for that day on your phone, and bring your headphones!

Let your baby participate.

I don’t believe in waiting for your baby to get fussy before taking him out of the stroller and comforting him. So, when you head out to dinner or lunch, bring your baby out immediately and let him look around, engage with other diners, and play with you. This will help him avoid getting frustrated or feeling left out and you may even find it a great icebreaker to meet the locals and engage in some cross-cultural banter.

Plan some picnics.

A nice dinner is always enjoyable (but let’s be honest, a little less enjoyable when breastfeeding a baby and trying to cut your food with one hand). So, planning a picnic for some days can be very freeing. Now, when I say picnic, I don’t mean spend your whole morning preparing and packing up food. You are on vacation, so relax. But, throwing a blanket or towel under the baby carriage and picking up a couple of sandwiches at a bakery and a bottle of screw-top wine with some plastic cups at the grocery store is completely doable and cheap. Then, find a pretty area, let the baby roll around and play, and enjoy some nice local food without worrying about spit-up, diaper changes, or breastfeeding. You can do anything you want in the privacy of your picnic.

Always bring your diaper bag and changing pad. Always.

I know, this is basically a given. But, just in case you were thinking of running out with just a couple of diapers and wipes in your purse, turn back. Many places are not baby changing friendly, meaning you will be hard pressed to find changing tables in most touristy cities. We have changed our baby in the Roman forum, in front of the Vatican, on park benches – you name it. A changing pad makes it all possible, as do those extra onesies you packed in case of an explosion.

Churches (and the like) are your friends.

Church is a great refuge, not just for souls but also for haggard parents. Whether you need to escape the heat, find a quiet place to feed the baby, or change a diaper – churches are great to go to and Europe is abundant with them. Now, I wouldn’t recommend changing a diaper during mass, but you will find many nearly empty churches when traveling through most European cities, so take advantage and enjoy some beautiful artwork while keeping the little one happy.

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