The Gadling young family travel gift guide

If you are traveling with a baby over the holidays, visiting with children on your next trip, or just hoping to convince a new parent that you don’t have to hand in your passport once the new addition arrives, we’ve compiled a gift guide for families traveling with babies. Traveling light is the best advice you can follow when traveling with a baby (even without a baby, it’s just good sense) but there are some gear and gadgets that make the road a little smoother for family travel.

family travel gift guideBoba baby wrap (formerly Sleepy Wrap)
One of my favorite purchases so far in Turkey is the Cybex first.go baby carrier, unique due to the horizontal infant insert used up until 3-4 months. The lie-flat insert allowed me to set the baby on a flat surface without worrying she’d roll over (with constant supervision, of course), perfect for traveling. Everywhere I went with it, we got comments and questions. Unfortunately, it’s not available in the US, but if you can get your hands on it, I recommend it. My other favorite carrier is the Sleepy Wrap (now called Boba), suitable from birth without any special insert, up to 18 months. It’s very easy to pack in a handbag or tie around yourself without having lots of straps to get tangled in. Since it’s all fabric, it works well for airports and metal detectors, and unlike other wraps, the stretch means you don’t have to retie it after taking the baby out. Choosing a carrier is different for everyone, a good comparison chart is here.family travel gift guide
M Coat convertible winter coat
Leave it to the Canadians to make a winter coat that can stretch (pun intended) to accomodate a pregnant belly, a baby carrier, and then return to normal, while keeping you both warm and stylish. While not cheap (it retails for about $366 US), it’s a good investment that will work for many winter trips, and potentially, many babies. Filled with Canadian down and available in a wide array of colors, it would suit any pregnant or babywearing traveler.

family travel gift guideTraveling Toddler car seat strap
For the first year or so, most car seats can fit onto a stroller, creating an easy travel system. For older babies and toddlers, having a gadget that makes a car seat “wheelable” frees up a hand and makes airport transit easier. This strap essentially attaches your car seat to your rollaboard, creating a sort of hybrid stroller-suitcase. Now you probably won’t want to carry your suitcase on the street throughout your trip, but at under $15, it’s any easy way to get through layovers until you reach your destination. If you want a car seat that can do double duty and then some, our Heather Poole recommends the Sit ‘n’ Stroll, a convertible stroller-car seat-booster-plane seat. It’s certified for babies and children 5-40 pounds, but as it doesn’t lie flat, may be more appropriate for babies over 6 months.

family travel gift guideKushies easy fold baby bed
Most so-called travel beds for babies are about as easy to pack as a pair of skis, more suited for road trips to Grandma’s house than increasingly-restricted airline baggage. Not every hotel has baby cribs available and sometimes you want something that works outdoors as well to take along to a park, beach, or on a day trip. The most useful travel product I’ve bought since my daughter arrived was the Samsonite (now Koo-di) pop-up travel cot; it’s light, folds up like a tent, and takes up less room than a shoebox in my suitcase. The Samsonite cot is not sold in the US, but Kushies Baby makes a similar product for the American market. Their folding baby bed weighs only a few pounds and can be collapsed into your suitcase. It also has mosquito netting and UV-protected fabric for outdoors, and loops for hanging baby toys.

family travel gift guidePuj and Prince Lionheart bathtubs
With a steady set of hands and some washcloths for padding, small babies can be bathed in most hotel or kitchen sinks, or even taken into the shower (beware of slipperiness!). For more support, new babies can lie in the Puj baby tub, a flat piece of soft foam that fits in nearly any sink to cradle your baby. Children who can sit up unassisted can play in the foldable Prince Lionheart FlexiBath, which can also serve as a small kiddy pool. While both products fold flat for storage, they may be too cumbersome and take up too much room in a suitcase for airplane travel, and thus may be better for car trips.

family travel gift guideLamaze stroller toys
The best travel toys are small, attach to a stroller or bag so they don’t get lost in transit, and don’t make any annoying sounds to bother fellow passengers (or the parents). Spiral activity toys can keep a baby busy in their stroller, crib, or in an airplane seat with no batteries required. Rattles that attach to a baby’s wrist or foot take up little space and are hard to lose. Lamaze makes a variety of cute toys that can attach to a handle and appeal to both a baby’s and parent’s visual sensibilities. We’re partial to this Tiny Love bunny rabbit who can dangle from her car seat, makes a nice wind chime sound, and can fit in a pocket as well (we call him Suleyman since he’s from Turkey but I’ve seen them for sale all over the world).

family travel gift guideThis is…books by Miroslav Šašek
Get your child excited about visiting a new city, or just add a travel memento to your library. Originally published in the 1950s and ’60s and reissued in the last few years, these are wonderful children’s books visiting over a dozen cities worldwide (plus a little trip to the moon) as Czech author Miroslav Šašek originally captured them. Fun for children and adults to read and compare the cities in the books to how they’ve changed. Going to Europe? The Madeline books are French favorites, Paddington is essential London reading, and Eloise is a great companion for Paris and Moscow. For more wonderful children’s book ideas published this year, check out Brain Pickings’ Best Illustrated Books of 2011.


family travel gift guideSnuggle Pod footmuff

In a perfect world, we’d always travel with children in the summer while days are long, you can sit at outdoor cafes, and pack fewer layers. Adding a warm footmuff to a stroller makes winter travel more bearable for a small child or baby. While not the cheapest gift, the Snuggle Pod adapts to any stroller up to age 3, and can be used in warmer weather with the top panel removed, or as a playmat when unfolded. It’s also made of Australian sheepskin, which is safe for babies when shorn short and used on a stroller (babies older than 1 year old can sleep directly on a lambskin, younger babies can lie on one for playtime or with a sheet cover for sleeping). A more budget-friendly option is the JJ Cole Bundleme with shearling lining.

Have any favorite gear or gadgets to add to our family travel gift guide? Tell us about your favorites in the comments and happy shopping!

Knocked up abroad: flying with a baby

flying with babyThis is the second in the Knocked Up Abroad series on travel with a baby. Read more here about planning a trip with baby, from choosing a baby-friendly destination to booking an apartment rental.

Before traveling with my baby for the first time, I was very nervous and apprehensive. Not about the baby, but about the other passengers. I’ve flown many times and know full well of The Look that comes when a baby boards the plane. The Look that says, “Oh here we go, a baby is on this flight. I hate crying babies on planes. Why did the parents have to bring the baby?!” And while I’ve been on many flights with crying babies and misbehaving toddlers, I’ve also been on many flights with adults who hogged the armrests, kicked the seatback, and all the other annoyances we love to complain about. Really, we’re all an asshole to someone else, so can’t we all just get along? There may be no justification for bringing a baby on a plane, but there are few non-baby trips we can justify either. Flying is a privilege, albeit an uncomfortable and expensive one, so let’s all do our best to get there without annoying each other too much. Fortunately our first trip was from Turkey, where babies are adored and worshipped. In Turkey, The Look is more like “Oh look, a baby! Maybe I’ll get to sit next to her!”

After a few flights both long- and short-haul, I’m happy to report my daughter Vera is a champion flier. All I can really do on a plane is feed her and hold her, which are currently her favorite activities. After our transatlantic flights, I had multiple passengers approach me and say they didn’t even know there was a baby near them since she was so quiet, a fact I consider a badge of honor. As she grows up, flying will become more difficult for all of us, but in the early months, it’s a bit like just carrying extra luggage (granted, luggage that needs to be fed and changed) and she rarely disturbs anyone on a plane.

To help ensure a smooth ride for you and your baby, here are a few guidelines I’ve found helpful to follow, from airport curbside to runway wheels down:-Upgrade if possible: Earlier this year, Malaysia Airlines made headlines by banning babies from first class. Before I even thought about having a child, I never had an issue with seeing babies up front: if the child and parents are more comfortable and thus quieter, doesn’t that make for a better flight for everyone? Now that I’ve flown both in coach and in business class with a baby, I can say it does make it easier, not just due to the extra space, but the shortcuts you get. Being able to skip long check-in and security lines makes a huge difference, and not every airline boards children first to the plane. If you can upgrade in any way, do it, but be aware that your seatmate may not be so happy to have a baby nearby when they paid extra for their seat (see also: making friends, below). If you can’t upgrade, find out if your plane has bassinets available and what the rules are to reserve them; stowing baby in a bassinet can be a great relief on a long flight.

-Use help when you can: Before Vera, I never checked bags and scoffed at other travelers laden with luggage carts and huge bags for short trips. When I returned from the US by myself with baby and extra bags full of stuff to bring back to Istanbul, I took advantage of the skycaps at JFK to help bring my bags to the check-in counter, and then rented a luggage cart to get out of the airport at Istanbul Ataturk. Even when packing light, you won’t regret the few bucks to tip someone to help with your gear when you also have a baby to contend with. Be nice to the gate agents checking you in too, as they may be able to find you an empty row or empty seat next to you if you need extra room (which you will).

-Be ready to go stroller-free: Having a hands-free baby carrier is a good idea to have on a trip in general, but start using it at the airport and have a back-up plan in case your stroller gets lost on your travels. Some airlines (now including American on domestic flights) require that anything bigger than a light umbrella-style stroller be checked before security, rather than gate-checked so be comfortable getting to the gate without wheels. Most airlines won’t count the stroller as part of your checked luggage as long as the baby is traveling with you. If you check it on arrival at the airport, you also won’t have to collapse the stroller through security, though some airports (such as Istanbul Ataturk) have additional security before you reach the check-in counter. On my flights between Istanbul and the US, I gate-checked the stroller on the first flight but found it had been checked through to my final destination, meaning that I had to navigate London Heathrow with just the carrier on the layover. Even with our Turkish evil eyes pinned to our car seat and stroller for protection, they were lost in both directions in the black hole that is Heathrow. Thanks to the helpful folks at American Airlines, we were quickly provided a loaner car seat in Chicago and the stroller was delivered to our door the next night, but it meant I had to scrap plans for the first day to go out with the stroller.

-Make friends on the plane: Especially when flying alone (well, alone with baby), the first thing I do on a plane is befriend my neighbors and let them know I’ll whatever I can to keep the baby happy and quiet on the flight. A lot of hostility from other passengers comes from fear that parents will simply let the baby cry, so I find this goes a long way towards making everyone comfortable, and find that most passengers will be happy to help if I need it. Ask nicely and a flight attendant can hold or watch your baby while you go to the bathroom or remove items from the overhead bin. If your baby does have a meltdown, buying your neighbor a drink can be a nice goodwill gesture.

-Feed, burp, and change the baby early and often: The primary reason babies cry on airplanes is that they are not able to equalize air pressure in their ears as easily as adults. I remember as a child that my mother would always give me a piece of (sugar-free) gum at the beginning of a flight to help pop my ears and soothe air sickness. Since you can’t give a baby gum, feeding them on take off and landing will help to distract and prevent blocked ears. The sucking motion of a pacifier may also help, though according to the CDC, breastfeeding is the best for equalizing pressure and can’t be replicated even with a bottle. Gas is another discomfort for babies, so be sure to burp often (a friend also swears by natural Colic Calm drops for gas). Finally, wet or dirty diapers can upset baby, so I try to get an aisle seat for easy access to the bathroom changing table. Anticipate so you can stop problems before they start.

-Make it bedtime: In my last article on travel with a baby, I emphasized trying to schedule flights around baby, but it’s not always possible to make nap time coincide with an airline schedule. You can try to fake it: dress the baby in pajamas, have a bath the last thing before you leave the house, do whatever you usually do before bedtime on or just before the flight. Airplanes dim the lights on overnight transcontinental flights for a reason: to help you adjust to the time at your destination and sleep at the right time. Do the same for baby to ease the transition. The internet is full of advice on coping with baby jetlag, but results are nearly as variable as for adults. After returning to Istanbul after two weeks in the US, it was me that took longer to adjust to the time change, though we tried to get her on local time immediately in both directions. Blogs Delicious Baby and Have Baby, Will Travel and the CDC have a lot of useful advice on dealing with jetlag.

-Start in-flight rituals: It may sound silly, but even at two months, I began telling my baby on each flight where we were going and who we would see, and how fortunate she is to be on a plane and going new places. She won’t understand or remember, but it begins a ritual that she will (hopefully) look forward to as she grows up. For older babies, you may want to take new toys (or wrap old ones) for them to open and enjoy on the flight. My cousin Anna flew frequently on the long haul between her home in Milan to her family in New Zealand with a baby and young son, who she allowed to watch as many movies as he wanted (something he doesn’t do at home) while she fed the baby anytime he made a peep. Make the flight a special experience to encourage good behavior.

Our resident flight attendent Heather Poole, compiled some more helpful tips based on her experience as a mother and a professional traveler great for babies and older children. Have any secret weapons of your own? Feel free to share in the comments.

Now that we’re back on the ground, I’ll be back with tips on what to do with your baby while traveling internationally. In case you missed it, you can read more on travel with a baby, pre- and post-natal, on Knocked Up Abroad.

Knocked up abroad: planning travel with a baby

travel with babyLet’s get this out of the way: you can travel with a baby. Many new parents feel that once they have a child, their travel days are over, but many parents will tell you that the first six months are the easiest time to travel with a baby. Is it easy? Not exactly, but with enough planning and the right attitude, it’s not as hard as you might think. Is it selfish? Probably, but so is most travel. Again, planning, attitude and a good amount of luck factor in to ensuring that you and baby aren’t a nuisance to other passengers and that you and your child have a safe and healthy trip. My baby is too young to remember her early adventures, but she’s learning to be adaptable and sociable, and does well with travel, new people, and noise. Is it fun? Your carefree days of travel may be over, but you can still enjoy exploring new places, indulging in great food and wine (it might just be at a sidewalk cafe at 4pm instead of a trendy restaurant at 9pm), and engaging with locals more deeply than you ever did before baby. Given the patience, resourcefulness, and ingenuity that I’ve developed while traveling with a baby, I’d say it has made me a better traveler, maybe even a better person.

Living in a foreign country like Turkey puts me at an advantage: I deal with a language and cultural barrier every day and everything is much more complicated and difficult than it would be at home in New York. Because this is not our permanent home and imported items are expensive, we made it through the first few months with little more than a stroller, a baby wrap to carry her, and a portable changing pad, so we already travel light. I say it gives me an advantage because I’m already used to the challenges and unfamiliarity inherent in travel. What makes foreign travel daunting (even without a baby) is the foreignness of it all, which has become my normal (after nearly two years abroad, I can tell you that knowing what’s going on all the time is overrated). The skills I’ve honed as a traveler and an expat — problem-solving, thinking ten steps ahead, and planning an exit strategy — are the same I use as a parent; you can apply the same lessons with a child or on the road.Now with a few trips under my belt with baby both solo and with my husband (and more travel planned in the coming weeks and months), I’ve developed some guidelines to help with traveling with a baby. I’ll be posting some additional articles on how to cope with a baby on a plane and on the ground, travel gear recommendations, as well as some destination-specific info, but first: some tips on planning a trip with a baby.

-Choose a baby-friendly destination. You may find that people everywhere are much more understanding and helpful to people traveling with babies than you imagine, but some places are more baby-friendly than others. In my experience, Mediterranean Europe is full of baby-lovers, even if the cobblestones, stairs, and ancient infrastructure presents a lot of challenges. Istanbul can be a nightmare to navigate with a stroller, but there are always friendly Turks willing to help. I’ve also heard babies in Latin America and Southeast Asia are treated like rock stars. Generally, countries with a high birth rate tend to be friendlier than others, though I’ve found the United States to be the most difficult in terms of other people’s attitudes.

-Prepare to pare down: There are a lot of great things about having a baby in the 21st century, but people managed quite well for generations without wipe warmers (really, this is a thing?!) and baby gyms. There are a few items I use at home every day such as a bouncy seat, a nursing pillow, and a folding bathtub, but I’ve done fine without them for weeks at a time while traveling. I know at some point down the line, I’ll need to pack a myriad of toys, snacks, and diversions for my child, but infants need very little. It may help to wean yourself off of baby gear in advance of your trip to see how well you can get along with less. Let the baby get used to a travel cot if you plan to use one, try getting around for a day with just a baby carrier, and introduce toys that can be easily attached to a stroller and then stashed in a pocket. Think about your destination: will a stroller be more of a hinderance than a help or can you get along with another mode of transport? Do you need a car seat or can you rent one? What can serve multiple purposes? I carry a thin Turkish towel that looks like a pashmina and I can use it as a burp cloth, nursing cover, baby blanket, and a scarf. The less you can pack, the better. Really all you can handle is baby in a stroller, one wheeled suitcase, and a purse and/or diaper bag. Anything more and you’ll regret it. Also, keep in mind that babies are born everywhere, and there are few places in the world where you can’t buy diapers, formula, clothes, or other gear. Pack enough in your carry-on to get through the first day and night in case you arrive at your destination after shops close.

-Schedule travel around baby: Babies are adaptable, but when it comes to travel, especially flying, make it as easy on yourself as possible. My baby generally wakes up early to eat, then goes back to sleep for a few hours, and sleeps through most of the night. Therefore, I’ve tried to book flights for early in the morning or overnight so she’s awake as little as possible. In the six flights we took to and from the US and domestically, the only one we had any trouble with was a 45-minute Boston to New York flight in the early evening, when she tends to be cranky. It’s hard to comfort a baby when you’re standing in line or getting ready to board a flight, so if your baby is already asleep at the airport, that’s half the battle. There used to be nothing I hated more than getting to the airport at the crack of dawn, but traveling with a sleeping, and more importantly, quiet baby is worth getting up early.

-Consider an apartment rental: With the popularity of websites such as AirBnB (even after the home trashing scandal), renting an apartment for even a short stay is an increasingly viable option when planning a trip. It not only gives you more space and a more home-like environment, it can also help you to get to know a place more through the neighborhood and markets when you buy food to cook on your trip. For a parent, an apartment has several key advantages over a hotel room. Having access to laundry while traveling can be a huge help and reduce your packing load significantly. Likewise, whether you are breastfeeding or using formula, having a kitchen with a fridge can be a necessity with a baby. If you’re set on a hotel stay (daily room-cleaning could be a big help too!), make sure your room has a minibar fridge to stash bottles inside and a bathtub if your baby is too big for the sink, and get info on the closest laundromat.

-Do your research: The last thing you want when traveling is to be standing on a subway platform with a crying baby, after hauling a heavy stroller up a flight of stairs, only to discover the train is bypassing your station. Before I travel next week to Slovenia and Italy, I’m looking up everything from how to cross the border by taxi, to what train stations have elevators, to public bathrooms in Venice with baby-changing stations (though I’ve managed many times on the top of a toilet seat lid and a changing pad). All the stuff about a destination you could wait to figure out until you arrived before you had a baby will help you a lot to plan in advance. Here’s some examples of things to research before you go, the more prepared you can be, the better.

Stay tuned for more tips on travel with a baby, in the air and on the ground plus destination guides for foreign travel with a baby. Waiting for baby to arrive? Check out past Knocked Up Abroad articles on traveling while pregnant and what to expect when you’re expecting in Turkey.

Knocked up abroad: baby shopping in a foreign country

baby shopping
Knocked up abroad has been on a bit of a hiatus as my travel schedule has slowed and the due date has sped up. Feel free to catch up with posts on pregnancy travel, Turkish superstitions, medical care, and naming children.

I’m into the final month of my pregnancy in Istanbul and that means the countdown is on to get stocked up with wee tiny baby things, garishly colored toys and furniture, and gadgets I never knew I would need. If you’ve ever been baby shopping, either for yourself or for a gift, you know it can be intimidating. Specialty boutiques and megastores are overrun with all sorts of contraptions and devices, in many varieties and brands, organized in ways that are overwhelming to all but the most seasoned of parents. Now try doing this shopping in a foreign country, in another language, with very limited space, and a semi-nomadic expat lifestyle and you’ll understand why I’ve put it off until, as the Turks say, the egg is at the door.

My “home” is in Brooklyn, New York, but I’ve spent less than a week there in the past 14 months. My current home in Istanbul is very small but fully furnished and outfitted with many storage cabinets (Turks dislike visible clutter) but little floor space. My husband and I have been heresince last April on an open-ended work assignment with no end date in sight. We may end this year back in Brooklyn, still in Istanbul, or in another city and country altogether. Given our situation, I’m trying to accumulate as little as possible and try to cut through the “must-have” baby lists to the bare essentials and stuff I won’t mind leaving behind in six months.

%Gallery-126823%In many ways, Turkey is a great place to have a baby, as Turks adore children and are happy to cater to them (someone should commission a study on the correlation between Mediterranean countries and baby-craziness, there must be something in the olive oil). Most malls have an area if not a whole floor of stores dedicated to kids, including local chains like Joker and E-Bebek (that’s e-baby), as well as many branches of UK chain Mothercare. While they all carry most of the same brands as in America and western Europe, the websites and store info is generally in Turkish, meaning a lot of time spent with a dictionary and translation site when researching products. Also unfortunate is the usual Turkish sales approach of hovering. Generally when you walk into a store in Istanbul, a sales person marches up to you, says “hoş geldiniz” (Turkish for welcome) and then proceeds to silently follow you around the store until you ask a question or flee the shop in paranoia (I usually flee in search of a shop with sales help who can’t be bothered to look up from their texting). This is the practice in nearly every store other than touristy carpet shops, and Turkish friends will tell me they are expecting me to take the lead and tell them my needs or tell them to buzz off. I found this hard to do in baby stores and instead tried to do much of my browsing online so I was prepared to purchase in stores.

The big ticket item on my list (as with many other expecting parents) is a stroller. I wanted something that could work from birth to toddlerhood, that could serve as a sleeping bassinet for the first few months (no room for a crib now) and be versatile enough to travel the world. Earlier in the pregnancy we contemplated a shopping trip to somewhere relatively nearby like Amsterdam or Barcelona where they must sell the chicest and most practical of European city strollers, but ended up deciding to buy something available in Istanbul that we could get parts and service for nearly anywhere in the world. We don’t own a car in either Istanbul or New York (in fact, I’m in possession of a soon-to-expire learner’s permit), but we got a car seat from a Turkish colleague to use on taxi rides and future road trips that can fit onto many strollers with an adapter. For Istanbul, the stroller needed to be tough enough to handle many hills, uneven sidewalks and cobblestone streets, but be light enough to tote up New York subway stairs and navigate narrow supermarket aisles. After researching dozens of strollers, spending many soul-destroying hours watching demo and review videos online, and testing a few out in person, I have determined the Perfect Stroller does not exist. Since I have no nursery to decorate and few other things to buy, I was able to splash out on a tricked-out Almost Perfect Stroller (I won’t name brands until I have a chance to test drive, but it’s one you will see in most yuppie coffee shops around the world) and will buy something cheap and lightweight when I am back in a city without metro station elevators and helpful Turks.

After the stroller was chosen, there are a few other items necessary to many new parents and designed well for travelers. As is common in many modern Istanbul apartments, we have no bathtub (Turks see them as unclean, and even the traditional hamam bath is more about the steaming than soaking) and tiny sinks in our bathroom and kitchen. I was resigned to buying a big plastic tub that I would eventually leave behind, but then found this cool device by American design company Puj. It’s essentially a glorified piece of foam that folds into a seat you can wedge into the sink, but unfolds flat and can be hung on a wall to dry. I imagine I can also pack it in the bottom of a suitcase for travel. One item on my list for my next US visit is the Nest from Phil&Teds: a rather ingenius travel carrier that can carry all the gear and then work as a bed or cot at night. Our parents would say a suitcase and pillow could serve the same purpose, but this meets more safety standards than a Samsonite and fits in the overhead bin too. Finally, we also wanted a baby carrier to go hands-free and stroller-less when traveling. There are upteen options out there, and we ended up with a Sleepy Wrap (another glorified bit of fabric with a nice label on it but several friends swear by it) purchased at a terrific speciality shop in Singapore. Fun fact: the Turkish word for baby carrier is kanguru.

The most fun things to shop for are, of course, baby clothes. Few people can resist tiny t-shirts, onesies, and dresses, and most parents can expect to receive many items as gifts. I stocked up on the basics at Mothercare and other clothing stores (we do have Baby Gap and even Baby Zara in Turkey), but discovered a treasure trove of baby shops recently in Eminönü, a crowded shopping area between the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. In these local shops, I found a range of clothes from the adorable to the downright odd, some with Turkish phrases and many more with strange “Turk-lish.” Check out the gallery above for some of the best.

Now that my apartment is filling up with baby things, I feel just about ready for my due date on July 20 without feeling weighed down by useless gadgets. Any other expat or frequent traveler parents out there who can recommend products? Feel free to leave them in comments below.

Stay tuned for a final pre-birth Knocked up abroad (pending baby’s cooperation, but they say first babies are usually late) on Turkish vs. American attitudes toward babies and pregnant women. Until then, catch up on the other posts here.

Galley Gossip: A question about traveling with car seats and strollers

Dear Heather,

Okay, so how bad is to have a one-year old on a plane without an actual ‘seat’? Please tell me it’s not the worst thing in the world????I wanted to bring a car seat on board, but they won’t let us because we’re not buying her a ticket. Also, should we check the stroller on the plane? We have a bugaboo, and I hate for it to get ruined, but it breaks down very easily. We could get a bag for it? Do you know if they make specific bags for strollers? Any advice please????????????

Thanks,
Marlo

Dear Marlo,

It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a one-year old on the airplane without an actual seat! Now take a deep breath and relax, Marlo, because you are a good mother, whether you buy that seat or not, and you’re going to need all that nervous energy in flight entertaining your daughter. Trust me, I know. Whenever I travel with my little one, regardless of how well behaved he is, I always end up feeling completely drained by the end of the trip.

As a flight attendant, it is my duty to tell you that it is safer for your daughter to travel strapped into a car seat that has been secured to an airplane seat. But let’s get real for a minute, because that, I know, is not always possible for some to do, particularly in this day and age when people are just struggling to survive. With that said, I must tell you that I have traveled with my son, along with my guilt, minus the car seat, on the airplane one or two times. My advice to you is to keep your seat belt fastened during the flight while you hold your daughter in your lap, because turbulence happens, even when the seat belt sign is not on.

You stated that you want to bring your car seat on-board, but the airline won’t let you because you are not buying the extra seat. I do not know which airline you are traveling on, but if you were traveling on the carrier I work for, I’d tell you to take the car seat with you anyway, just in case there is an open seat available. If there’s not an extra seat, the airline, at least my airline, would then gate check your car seat. Key word is gate check. Gate check means you are checking the item at the gate. Once at your destination, the car seat (or stroller) will meet you at the aircraft door, not at baggage claim.

If you do bring a car seat on-board the aircraft, please please please make sure it is approved by the FAA and do read the installation instructions before it is time to install the thing. I can not tell you how many times people come aboard and do not know how their car seat operates and get angry at me when I can not tell them how THEIR car seat works. There are hundreds of different makes and models produced each and every year, so unless you come across a flight attendant who has a child that uses the exact same model as you, chances are that flight attendant is not going to be able to help.

When traveling with a lap child, try to get an aisle seat. With so little leg room, it is impossible to get anything out of the diaper bag when the seat in front of you is reclined and there’s a baby sitting on your lap. If you are in an aisle seat, you’ll be able to swing the diaper bag into the aisle in order to grab whatever you need out of the bag – bottles, diapers, toys, etc. Just make sure to check and see that the drink cart is not rolling in your direction beforehand. And if there is a drink cart parked at your row, ask the flight attendants if they can spare a few plastic cups, “stacking cups”, in order to keep baby busy for a good five minutes. Hey, every minute counts when you’re on the airplane with a child.

As for the stroller, I also own a Bugaboo (as well as a BOB for jogging and a Maclaren that I keep in New York) and I can not say that the Bugaboo breaks down easily, not when you’re in a hurry and you’ve got your hands full, nor can I imagine lugging that thing with me anywhere, except to the mall, and perhaps to the beach for a nice leisurely walk. Keep in mind that if you do decide to check the Bugaboo, most likely you will have to pay a checked bag fee, and add that fee to the price you’re going to pay for the Bugaboo transport bag, and you’ll be paying close to $200. While I do love my Bugaboo, I don’t love it THAT much. And I would not want to be the passenger standing behind the Bugaboo family at security. When it comes to travel, think light, think easy, and think disposable. Whenever I travel with my son, I use a cheap umbrella stroller I bought at Target. What I like about the stroller, besides the fact that it was cheap, is that I can attach it to my rollaboard, if the kid feels like walking, or hang it in the closet, so that I don’t have to check it, and if I do have to check it and it does get ruined, big deal, I’m out $25.

Hope that helps!

Happy travels,

Heather