Monday, July 16, 2012

Traveling & Baby Gear: What Do You Really Need?

Yesterday we talked about flying with small children
 But what about all the Baby Gear that you’ll need?
Any expecting parent can tell you that the shear amount of STUFF ‘required’ to raise a child is insane. It’s bad enough trying to figure out how all this new gear will fit in your home, but when you consider that you will still need the majority of these items while on vacation, the shrinking weight requirements of checked luggage can make the idea of traveling with a baby seem nearly impossible. Have no fear. SOME airlines get it (they must be parents themselves) and will work with your on some of the big items like a Pack n Play, Stroller, and Car Seat. But do you even need any of these items?

Portable Crib
Is co-sleeping an option for the duration of the vacation? If you answered yes, will you also feel comfortable having them nap on the adult bed? Do you know anyone near your destination that has a pack n play you can borrow? Most new parents have one, and in our case, we were able to borrow it for the duration of our trip and could leave ours at home. (THANK YOU DAVE & KELLY!) Remember to bring your own sheets, just in case, and pack any bedding that your child MUST have to fall asleep – a favorite blanket or stuffed animal (or even a nightlight!) can make bedtime in a new room easier for little ones to handle.

The same gut check goes for the stroller. Are you going to do touristy stuff? Walking, touring the city, using public transportation, visiting amusement parks or zoos, waiting for nearly an hour outside the car rental office while they straighten out your online reservation that went haywire with a hungry toddler and a pile of 7 bags? (Not that that seems to happen EVERY time we travel…) Think of your plans for the vacation and decide if you need the stroller.
If you DO decide to bring it (I usually do) make sure the car picking you up at the airport, or your rental car, will be able to accommodate the stroller along with all of the luggage. (SUV rentals are your friend.)
Hannah patiently sat in the stroller while we waited at the gate (Total lie. She actually ran on the moving sidewalk), and then right before boarding the plane we simply gate checked the stroller. It was waiting for us when we disembarked at our destination and was probably the easiest piece of ‘luggage’ we dealt with our entire trip. Make sure you attach a luggage tag complete with Name, Cell Phone, and Airports (Including layovers!) just in case there is a mix up.

Car Seat
If you’re going to be driving or riding in a car/taxi AT ALL during your vacation, then you need to have a car seat for your child. If someone is willing to let you borrow one at your destination, then that’s one less thing to worry about, but if they’ll be installing it for you as well, make sure they know if your child is rear or front facing. Each state has different requirements, so check these out when planning any vacation. Also verify the make/model/year of the car seat you’ll be using. Car seats have expiration dates! As always, before strapping your child in, verify that the seat has been installed properly and is secure. If you’re bringing your own car seat (we always do), check your airlines policy on checking baby gear. In the past we’ve been able to check the car seat at the ticket counter for free and gate check the stroller for free. The one time we brought a pack n play as well, they agreed to check it also, but I think we just ran across a sympathetic ticket agent. Re-read the car seat’s manual before your trip so that the different installation methods are fresh in your mind. Most cars have latch systems, but not always in the middle seat. Reminding yourself of the tips and tricks that are unique to your car seat will make it easier to install in a new car. Safety First!

An important tip about checking Car Seats:
Bring your own clear plastic trash bags and zip ties. Not all ticket counters have bags available, so you run the risk of ruining your car seat cover and straps if you can’t bag it up yourself. Just keep enough bags and ties in the front zipper pocket of a suitcase for each leg of your flight. (Assume the worst – the bag gets ripped each leg and you have to repackage it each time you board a flight. The likelihood of this happening is small, but these items take up minimal space, and can double as dirty laundry bags if you have plenty.) Wait to zip tie the bag shut until the ticket agent says it’s okay in case they need to examine it, and use zip ties thin enough that you could saw through it with a car key in a pinch.

High Chair
This is probably the easiest piece to leave at home. Most restaurants have high chairs or boosters available, and if you’re visiting family they can easily pick up something on craigslist or borrow from a friend. If all else fails, have a picnic! Towels laid out on the floor wash up easily and your child will probably think it’s a special treat! There are some smaller items that you can pack to make eating out easier for everyone. Check out the Restaurant Kit we never leave home without.

Bath Tubs
Finding a substitute for an infant bathtub can be difficult if you don’t plan ahead. Bath time in the kitchen sink and sponge baths are always an option, but consider taking a bath or shower with your baby for a real bonding moment. Plus, if the baby poops in the tub, You’ll be completely prepared after reading THIS.

Some babies just love their swings – I get it – and the thought of leaving home without it can scare some parents. If you’re not willing to either (1) buy a swing at your destination – new or used (2) Borrow from a friend or (3) Rock the baby yourself, then you can always look into a Baby Supply Rental Company. (Google “Rent Baby Equipment {nearest major city}”) If you’re going to go this route, they often have packages available that include toys (which is great if you’re near the beach), feeding , or sleeping gear, and might be more cost effective than paying baggage fees on the plane.

I’ve purposely avoided mentioning this service sooner because usually the prices are high for short term rentals, and free and low cost alternatives are usually available. But in the case of a baby that will only fall asleep to the gentle rocking of their comfy swing, everyone's sanity is worth blowing the budget a little. Better to be well rested and Enjoy vacation than to save a few bucks and be miserable.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

7 Tips for Flying with Toddlers

First things first, keep in mind that every flight is going to be slightly different – time of take-off and landing, temperature in the cabin, aisle vs window seat, turbulence – all these things can throw a wrench in the best laid plans, so my Main piece of advice is to Be Flexible. 

1. Lap Infant? 
Always check your specific airline’s policy, but as of the publication date many airlines allow children to ride free (while sitting on your lap, not in their own seat) before their 2nd birthday. If you’re a family on a budget, this helps cut down on vacation costs. Some airlines, like Jet Blue, also allow the child to bring 1 carry on like a diaper bag in addition to your carry on and personal item. 

Chris and I took advantage of both of these policies on our recent cross country flight from Portland, Oregon to Boston, Massachusetts. Hannah was ticketed as a lap infant (free!) and we carried on two small suitcases, a backpack, a large purse, and a diaper bag with no additional luggage charges. However, this meant we lugged 5 bags and 1 sleepy toddler on and off a plane while onlookers just shook their heads and prayed that she wasn’t going to scream and that I wasn’t going to peg them in the head with a stray bag while navigating the skinny aisle way. We were flustered before the flight even started, but I’ve never been a ‘light packer’. 

2. Give them the Time of Day 
Since having Hannah, we’ve flown in the afternoon, at dinner time, and overnight - and they all pose different hurdles. 

If your flight falls during nap time or bedtime, then you have to take sleeping rituals into account. Do you usually read them a story? Pray? Sing lullabies? Do they sleep with a special blanket or stuffed animal? Do they need a bottle of milk? To nurse? Pacifier or lovey? Preparing for these requests, and making sure that these items are packed in the personal item at your feet – NOT in the overhead compartment – will make things easier for you (and those around you). 

If the flight falls during snack or meal time, plan ahead to either bring food that will get through security or allow yourself time to purchase food at the airport. Even if the flight Doesn’t fall during these times – I’ve yet to meet a toddler that will turn down goldfish crackers, even when in the foulest of moods. 

If your child should be wide awake during some portion of the flight, make sure you pack something for them to do, like a toy to play with or crayons and paper. Test the toy out ahead of time and make sure that it is a ‘silent’ toy for the sake of those around you. While most parents have been inoculated against the random beeps and songs of baby toys, not everyone wants to listen to that when they’ve paid hundreds of dollars to fly. Just be courteous to those around you. You can’t control whether or not your baby will cry, but you can control how much noise their toys make. 

3. Come Prepared 
Hannah has been having some fairly epic meltdowns lately, and just in case she lost it on the flight I kept the other passengers in mind. Not only did I bring an arsenal of snacks – gold fish, trail mix, applesauce packs – and lug on her favorite fuzzy blanket, but I also put ~10 individually sealed packs of ear plugs in a sandwich bag in an easy to reach pocket of my diaper bag. (Ear plug are readily available at Home Depot or Lowes and you should use them anytime you use power tools for home renovation projects, so they’re not bad to have on hand.) Had Hannah thrown a tantrum or start crying uncontrollably, I would have quickly handed them out to those around me. 

4. High Tech Entertainment 
Worst comes to worst, nothing cures a cranky Hannah quite like an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba. I’m pretty sure Hannah would trade me in to go live with Foofa in a heartbeat. We have an iPad and downloaded a few episodes off iTunes before our trip. We also had an entire series of Backyardigans that really came in handy while driving to Boston from Upstate New York. If you’re going to go this route, make sure you bring appropriate headphones. If you’re going to wing it and hope that the in-flight entertainment will suffice (most airlines change their TV and movie selections monthly and have them listed on their website), then consider a headphone jack splitter and two sets of headphones so that both of you can enjoy the show. 

5. High Pressure Situations 
While in an airplane, the pressure changes significantly during takeoff and landing. When I was a kid I remember preparing my carry on before a big flight and getting to pick any flavor of bubbalicious chewing gum I wanted. As an adult, I STILL remember to pack a few sticks of gum to help my ears, but babies and toddlers do better if they’re nursing – either on breast or bottle. I dug out a small 4oz bottle and filled it with water after going through security for our most recent flight, but I’ve nursed Hannah on previous flights (before weaning) and she’s yet to have any flight related ear issues (Knock On Wood!). Take stock of how comfortable you’d be nursing your baby next to a stranger (and consider how they might react) and pack a cover or thin blanket if you feel like it’ll come in handy. No pressure! (Pun intended.) 

6. Is there such a thing as a 
Mommy Mile High Club? 
Just like the seats, leg room, and in flight services, airline bathrooms seem to be shrinking by the minute. Between getting to the airport hours in advance, being one of the first to board the plane, drinking during takeoff, and sitting through a seemingly never ending flight, consider yourself lucky if you do not have to change a diaper while on board. 

So do yourself a favor and make the inevitable diaper change as easy on yourself as possible. Put everything you’d need for the worst of the worst diaper change in a small easy to grab bag. Space will be at a premium, and you don’t need your ENTIRE diaper bag taking up precious room. You also don’t want to have to go BACK to your seat and grab a forgotten item, so take a minute and really think about this quick grab bag. 
  • A diaper is obvious. 
  • Plenty of wipes 
  • Diaper rash cream 
  • Extra pants or onesie depending on in-flight outfit 
  • A ziplock bag for soiled clothes? 
  • And if you’re going for bonus points – a pre-treating laundry stain pen to prevent set in stains.
While this list is pretty universal (but certainly not all inclusive – did I miss anything?) I have plenty of tips for traveling with Cloth Diapers which I’ll be discussing later this week.

7. Be Flexible 
Kids can give our patience a run for its money in the most relaxed situations. Add a hundred strangers, confined space, and limited supplies (even with the extra diaper bag *wink*) and things can go south quickly. 
 But don’t worry Mama – You got this. 
Just remember that the flight will eventually end, and you just have to keep it together for a little bit. Put it in comparison to all the hours you’ll spend parenting in your lifetime, and this flight is just a blip, so there’s no need to stress. Take advantage of what you DO have – a window shade that opens and closes, beautiful clouds or twinkling city lights to look at, an aisle way to strut up and down while the seat belt sign is off, a cell phone in airplane mode with lots of buttons to push, a sandwich bag full of ear plug party favors, and a ‘funny’ story to tell them when they’re all grown up.



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