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.

SkyMall Monday: Lasagna Pan Battle

Cold weather has begun to hit the East Coast, where SkyMall Monday is headquartered. While walking the dogs this morning, I actually donned a knit cap and cursed the decision to leave my gloves at home. This can mean only one thing: It’s comfort food season. With Thanksgiving just around the corner (or still visible in the rear view mirror for our Canadian friends), we’re gearing up for that magical time of year when carbs are king and starch is the star. Cold weather requires adding some meat to your bones (yes, vegetarians, you’re made of meat – deal with it) and there may be no better food for that than lasagna. The combination of noodles, sauce, cheese, more cheese, some cheese and meat (or vegetables – geez) fills you up and helps you hibernate through those frosty nights. Thankfully, SkyMall knows that making lasagna can be a chore. They want to make carbo loading easy and fun. But, how do you choose which SkyMall lasagna pan to buy. Well, you turn to SkyMall Monday’s Lasagna Pan Battle. It’s the Edge Simple Lasagna Pan versus the Lasagna Trio Pan. Two pans enter. One pan wins.

This isn’t our first SkyMall Battle rodeo. Previously, we saw the Edge Brownie Pan (the Edge Simple Lasagna Pan’s sister) best the Giant Cupcake Pan in a dessert battle. This time, however, we’re getting savory. Which lasagna pan will earn the SkyMall Monday endorsement? Grab some noodles and fill the bathtub with ricotta. It’s go time.

Practicality

The Edge Simple Lasagna Pan operates on the principle that no one likes mushy heaps of messy lasagna. The Lasagna Trio Pan is a people pleaser that allows everyone to be satisfied by a lasagna of their choosing. While it’s nice to have pretty rectangles of lasagna, it’s best to keep all your guests happy by making a variety of lasagna options.

Advantage: Lasagna Trio Pan

Ease of Use

The Edge Simple Lasagna Pan has easy to grip handles. The Lasagna Trio Pan has a wide lip to grab. So, you won’t be dropping either of these pans when they are hot. However, you may run into problems when figuring out how long to keep the Lasagna Trio Pan in the oven. With different ingredients in each trough, cook times may vary (especially if you have meat in one and vegetables in another). The Edge Simple Lasagna Pan cooks evenly throughout since the ingredients are uniform.

Advantage: Edge Simple Lasagna Pan

Related Products

We’re well-versed in the Edge Simple Lasagna Pan’s sweet sibling, the Edge Brownie Pan. It’s fantastic. Well, SkyMall does sell the Lasagna Trio Pan’s brother from the same mother parent company, the Meatball Baker. I love meatballs. However, meatballs can be made in a pan. Or baked. Or started in a pan and finished in the oven. Who needs a Meatball Baker (and don’t argue that no one needs a lasagna pan – that’s nonsense)? The Edge Brownie Pan defeats all.

Advantage: Edge Simple Lasagna Pan

Price

I’ll be brutally honest here: Both of these lasagna pans are expensive pieces of kitchen equipment. People have been tightening their belts lately (and then loosening them after dinner for comfort), so price has to be a key factor. The Edge Simple Baking Pan normally retails for $49.99 but is currently on sale for only $39.99 on SkyMall. The Lasagna Trio Pan is $79.95 (though it is way cheaper on Amazon).

Advantage: Push – This is a SkyMall column, so the Trio’s SkyMall price has to be considered but it’s nice to see it cheap elsewhere.

Lids

Neither one of these pans includes a lid. WTF?! No one finishes an entire batch of lasagna in one sitting and foil can only do so much. Who do you have to massage to get a lid around here?

Advantage: Failure Push

Well, after battling it out, the Edge Simple Lasagna Pan just barely squeaks out a 2-1 win (with two pushes). Not a resounding victory by any means. What does it win? Well, just like I did with the Edge Brownie Pan, I will now do an actual hands-on review of the Edge Simple Lasagna Pan. What will become of the Lasagna Trio Pan? Should the Edge Simple Lasagna Pan prove unable to fulfill its duties, the Lasagna Trio Pan will be called upon to step in.

Of course, we’d love to know your thoughts on this pressing SkyMall matter. What say you?

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Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

SkyMall Monday: Baggy Rack

Living alone has its perks. You get to be as messy as you’d like, you always get to decide what to watch on television and pants pretty much become optional at all times. There are, however, downsides. It can get lonely. There’s no one around to help you when you realize just a little too late that there’s no more toilet paper. And cooking for one is a real pain in the buttocks. Thankfully, here at SkyMall Monday headquarters, I live with my girlfriend and two dog butlers. We can cook proper meals, go into the bathroom with confidence and always have someone with whom to play UNO. What should the lonely among us do when they need an extra set of hands? Mail order brides are expensive, Craiglist roommates usually end up being psychos who clip their toenails in your bed and training your dogs to be butlers takes ages (believe me, I know). Thankfully, SkyMall knows that solo dwellers could use some help. They know that there’s nothing wrong with living alone. They don’t judge. They know that you live alone by choice. They understand that it’s not because no one could possibly love you. They think it’s totally cool that you have six cats who vote for their feline president every fours years. Heck, they even appreciate all that President Jinglebottoms H. Furrykins IV has done in his first term in office. But they want to help, as well. That’s why they carry the Baggy Rack.There’s nothing worse than bagging up leftovers (except for genocide, child molestation, dropping your ice cream cone and several trillion other things). The bags don’t stay open, you get sauce all over your hands and inevitably, you just give up and throw the food against the wall in a fit of anger. Several hours later, after writing about the incident in your diary, you return to the kitchen to tackle quite a mess. Who has time for that? That’s why you need to have a device that will hold those bags open for you.

Think that it’s easy to hold those tiny bags open all by yourself? Never have leftovers because you can down an entire DiGiorno‘s by yourself? Well, maybe you should pop a Gas-X and read the product description:

Every kitchen should have this practical rack that keeps plastic bags upright so they’re easy to fill. No more spilling food all over the counter! Great for sauce, soup, cereal, berries, leftovers...Doubles as a bag dryer.

Sauce is a food product. Soup is a food product. Cereal and berries are food products (that, coincidentally, go great together). Leftovers is a generic category that could encompass anything. From steak to jelly bean gravy, anything can be a leftover. That means that the Baggy Rack is great for everything. Including being a bag dryer. Because we all should be rinsing and reusing our bags once we’re done with all that jelly bean gravy.

Living alone doesn’t have to be difficult. All you need are some dolls, some peanut butter and the Baggy Rack. You’ll never feel lonely again.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

SkyMall Monday: Portable Microwave

When I’m toiling away in the SkyMall Monday headquarters, I tend to cook a lot. From burritos to tacos to quesadillas, I enjoy preparing a wide array of ethnic foods. But when I travel, I often crave those tastes of home. Unfortunately, cooking on the road can pose a real challenge. At home I have all of my gadgets, like a freezer to hold my Hot Pockets and microwave to heat up said pockets to the appropriate hotness. Surely I cannot travel with a microwave. It’s not like I own a spaceship or K.I.T.T. The last thing I want to do when I travel is rely solely on roadside eateries, because, as you can tell from my cooking expertise, I treat my body like a temple. So, how can I whip up my favorite meals when I’m away from home? This sounds like a job for SkyMall! And, of course, our favorite catalog has the solution. My fellow connoisseurs of rapidly cooked cuisine, I present to you the Portable Microwave Oven!
Finally, I can enjoy chewy pizza, faux-buttered popcorn and off-colored vegetables in my boat, motel room, or even in my car! Now, normally I do my best to convince you how awesome these products are, but the Portable Microwave’s product description is so amazing, that I we’re going to get right to it.

Take it away, SkyMall:

The microwave plugs into a wall outlet, a car or boat’s DC outlet, or connects to a car battery (jumper cables provided), allowing you to make popcorn or reheat food at campsites, tailgate parties, or during boating excursions.

Jumper cables included? What could possibly go wrong by rigging a radiation device to jumper cables?


The 10″ wide by 7″ deep interior easily accommodates a salad plate or soup bowl, and the microwave has three preset buttons (pizza, coffee, and popcorn) or you can enter the cooking time in minutes and seconds.

Mmmm, microwaved coffee just like Juan Valdez used to make. And I am so thrilled that it accommodates salad bowls, as I love nothing more than some hot, wilted lettuce after a long day on the road. Hot salad is what got the first pioneers across the American West. Well, that and some cannibalism.

Campfires are for suckers and grills are so last century. I need my food now and I need it smoldering on the inside while cold on the outside.

So, if you like scalding your mouth (and nuking your testicles) while doing 75mph down Route 66, then stop using your hot pot in your El Camino and step up to the Portable Microwave Oven.

Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Become a chef for a day at the Lodge at Vail

Culinarily inept? Well, if you are, you’re not alone (and you’re in good company … with me). The Lodge at Vail, a RockResort, has exactly the solution for those of us who believe cooking dinner involves a phone call. The Colorado Cookin’ package will make you a chef for a day, as Executive Chef Rahm Fama takes you through the local farmers’ market and into the Cucina Rustica restaurant’s kitchen for the insights you’ll need to become a pro.

This deal is on through September 21, 2009 and comes with two nights (Saturday stay is required) and some great Sunday activities – from a tour of the Vail Farmers’ Market to a four-course brunch at The Wildflower and a cooking class led by the top chef himself. It starts at $274 a night, and extra days can be tacked on at $149 each.

Hell, it’s enough to make me consider stepping into the kitchen.