Gadling Gift Guide: Family Travel With A Lap Child Under 2

After many trips around the world with a baby (we’ll board our 40th flight next week to Brazil), I’ve seen all manner of products labeled for travel. Many of them are too bulky, heavy or otherwise impractical when you are already dealing with a squirmy child, diaper bag, carry-on, and stroller, but I’ve discovered a few things that can make travel easier and collected many of them on Pinterest. Last year, I recommended some favorite gear and toys for young families, and this year, I’ve divided it by stage. From newborn to toddler, many gifts will work well beyond the early years and if you are traveling this season with an infant or small child, check out our tips for holiday travel with a baby.

For newbies (both parents and newborns):

Gift guide - travel bassinetQuickSmart 3-in-1 travel bassinet
Babies sleep a lot of the time in the beginning, and while they are still very portable and can’t sit up alone, they are often happy to snooze in a stroller or car seat. But when traveling, however, you are often faced with the problem of what to do with the baby without a stroller, such as in the airport or out at a restaurant. Enter this handy diaper bag that can unfold into a changing station or bassinet. You might want to stash a small reusable bag to store any objects in the diaper bag while unfolded.

gift guide Flye Baby seat
FlyeBaby hammock seat
Your flight isn’t long enough for a baby bassinet, you can’t afford a separate seat, and the plane is full. This is the perfect time to pull out this brilliant hammock-like seat, which can attach to your tray table and holds a baby up to 25 pounds, though babies able to sit up unassisted might not like being restrained. You’ll still have to switch off for mealtime, unless you want to eat your $8 in-flight sandwich off baby’s tummy. You can also use the FlyeBaby as a portable high chair, but we like the more squashable Tot Seat below.For babies six months to one year:

Gift guide - Tot Seat high chairTot Seat portable high chair
Most babies start on solid food by six months, when they can sit up and may even have some teeth to explore nibbles. Instead of toting around a huge booster seat or limiting yourself to “family” restaurants with high chairs, try this ultra streamlined “seat” that can be tied onto virtually any chair with a back, can be tossed into a washing machine for cleaning, and best of all, easily fits into a purse or diaper bag. It’s one of my favorite bits of gear, and with good reason, it’s ingenious and indispensable.

gift guide - Sophie giraffeSophie the giraffe teether
All over the world, kids and parents know Sophie. She was born in France and has looked the same for over fifty years. Sophie is perfect for teething babies (her soft rubber body is heaven for tender gums) to toddler age, but will be rediscovered and enjoyed when it comes time to play with dolls and stuffed animals. The classic Sophie teether toy can make a great stocking stuffer, but generous gift givers might also check out the Sophie play house.

For crawlers and early walkers (one year and up):

gift guide - Sidekick carrier and bagSidekick Diaper Bag and Carrier
Another cool combo product from the makers of the Travelmate car seat/wheelie bag gear, the Sidekick can be used as a hip carrier, shoulder or waist-strap diaper bag, or both. It’s good for when you want the option of carrying the baby occasionally but without extra gear, though the weight distribution might make this uncomfortable for a long day out. It’s also sleek and un-girly enough that either parent should feel comfortable about wearing as a bag or carrier.

gift guide - Bobux shoesBobux soft-soled shoes
Although everyone loves giving them as gifts, new babies really don’t need shoes. Babies taking their first steps might want a little more protection without too much structure, which is when these soft-soled shoes are perfect. Even as a confident walker, we still pack these for flying days, since they are light enough to be comfortable for a nap on the plane (and not bother the parent holding her), but give some traction and coverage for any airport explorations.

For older toddlers:

gift guide - Boba Air carrierBoba Air
For the first year and a half, the Boba wrap has been my go-to carrier and I included it in last year’s gift guide. As babies get heavier and more independent, parents will use carriers less and less, but they still come in handy in situations when you can’t use a stroller but need to keep your child contained. The Boba Air is a good option to keep stashed in a bag for when you need it. About half the weight (and price) of an Ergo, it can be folded into its own pouch when not in use, and worn as a front or back carrier.

gift guide - Leapfrog LeapPadLeapfrog LeapPad
I like to limit my daughter’s travel toys to things small and inexpensive, like a cosmetics bag with travel-sized toiletries, a deck of cards, or a metal pencil case filled with magnets, all available at a 99-cent store. But for really long-haul flights, you want to break out the big guns, and the Leap Pad learning tablets from Leapfrog are a good investment. Technically, they are for kids age 3 and up, but these days, as babies are able to operate iPhones practically out of the womb, toddlers can still find it entertaining. Yes, there are also plenty of educational apps and kid-friendly accessories for tablets, but if you’d rather keep your iPad to yourself and free from little fingers, this $79 (for the original LeapPad 1 shown here) device is a worth putting on your Santa list. Remember to keep volume low on flights, even though the sound beats that of a screaming child, it can still be an annoyance to other passengers until your child is ready for earphones.

For dreamers:

gift guide - map blanketSoft Cities blanket
Can’t travel this year or want to instill a love of maps early? Get a customized blanket with any map of your choosing. Enter your home address, or perhaps that of a dream destination, and you can add multiple “I am here” or “I was here” markers within a two-mile radius. Available in several color schemes for girls and boys, as well as a watercolor design, the blankets can be customized in different ways to create real works of art. It’s a bit late for this Christmas, but could be ordered for a 2013 trip!

gift guide - phonetic alphabet poster
Phonetic Alphabet poster

Know a frequent flier expecting a lap child? Future aviators and air traffic controllers will need to learn their Alpha Bravo Charlies early. It’s a cute way to show a little travel nerdery in your nursery without a too-obvious airplane theme or being oversimplified for kids. Other travel decor ideas might include airport codes, luggage tags or chalkboard maps.

[Photo credits: QuickSmartGo.com, FlyeBaby.com, Meg Nesterov, GoGoBabyz.com, BobuxUSA.com, BobaFamily.com, Leapfrog.com, SoftCities.net, AllPosters.com]

5 Tips For Holiday Travel With A Baby


With Thanksgiving days away, ’tis the season for screaming infants and squirming toddlers packed onto planes, right? Flying with a baby doesn’t have to be a nightmare, even during the very busy holiday travel season. Whether you are flying home to introduce your baby to the grandparents, or taking a much-needed island vacation with your newly-expanded family, here are some tips to help you (and your seatmates) cope with flying with a baby:

Don’t scrimp on the extras and factor them into your travel budget. Pre-baby, you might have been able to deal with a red-eye flight with multiple connections on a bare-bones budget airline in order to save on ticket airfare. When you are flying with a small child on your lap, there are certain upgrades you may wish to make that will pay off in spades. Check your luggage (though pack light anyway), so you have as little to carry on the plane as possible (and while we’re on the subject, always have a carrier/wrap/sling as you can’t always take your stroller to the gate). Add on extra legroom or the airline’s “economy plus” so you have a little more room to maneuver. These days, only some long-haul or international flights have baby bassinets, and even then, they will only fit up until one year or so. Do your homework: depending on the airline and route, it might make sense to purchase a seat for your infant (often with additional baggage allowance), especially if they are happy to sit in a car seat for the flight. Trust me, these things will be worth the extra $50 or so, but factor it into your ticket cost and budget accordingly.Be resourceful and creative about in-flight entertainment. Many new parents feel they have to pack a separate suitcase full of toys to entertain a child on a plane, but you want to keep your carry-on items to a minimum. You’d also be surprised with what you already have in your purse or diaper bag can be endlessly interesting to a baby: your keys, your bag of small toiletries, even your wallet. At one year, my daughter became fascinated with pulling things out of my wallet, so I now carry a cheap card wallet for her to play with containing all of our old hotel key cards. She’s also spent hours packing and unpacking my make-up bag, and since we’re in a small space, I can make sure she’s not eating my lipstick or stashing my Amex card between the seats. Even the seat has fun buttons to press (as long as they aren’t controlling your neighbor’s seat); magazines to leaf through; and plastic straws, ice and cups from drink service. Carry some actual toys too, but keep them pocket-sized: a small pouch full of IKEA finger puppets is one of the best investments I’ve ever made and has often appeased other kids on the plane too. Anything that won’t make a mess or an annoyance to other passengers is fair game to me. There’s always the failsafe cellphone, or tablet computer if you have one (check out Best Apps for Kids for recommendations); once it’s safe to use approved electronics, of course.

Don’t be afraid of the back of the plane. I used to dread the back of the plane, especially as I was loathe to check luggage and therefore wanted early access to the precious amount of overhead bin space. Now since I’m usually checking anyway, I don’t mind being in the back; it’s close to the bathroom and the flight attendants, often less crowded than the premium seats in the front, and when we land, I have more time to collect all the things the baby has pulled out of my purse. Most airlines have discontinued early boarding for families, but even if it’s offered, you may want more time in the relative comfort and space of the gate area before boarding. The only drawback to the back of the plane is other children, especially if yours tends to be influenced by the cries and sounds of other babies. In case of another child’s meltdown, it might be the time to distract yours with a video, and hand your finger puppets over to the other parents.

Dress naturally and for comfort. A few years ago, I read that because of breathability, it’s more comfortable to fly in a wool dress suit than a polyester track suit. This especially makes sense in winter when you are going from cold runways to overheated airports and erratic cabin temperatures, often rushing to make a plane and laden with baggage. Babies will sleep more comfortably in a cotton or other natural fabric one-piece pajama and it’s also easy to change diapers, and light to pack a spare in your diaper bag. Dressing baby in pajamas can also help feel it’s time for a sleep rather than running around the cabin. I’ve seen many small children traveling in fleece outfits (fleece is essentially code for polyester), and those same children are often sweaty and restless once the airplane’s heater kicks on. For me, I tend to feel much warmer trekking through an airport with a 20-pound person strapped to me, so I try to ditch my coat as soon as possible. My favorite is a lightweight down jacket from Uniqlo that packs down into a tiny bag that I can stash under the stroller or in a suitcase until I’ve reached my final destination. Finally, while baby might look cute and comfy in PJs, you are better off in two pieces with a spare shirt, in case you need to change mid-flight after an accident.

Go with baby’s schedule. No one really has the definitive answer on how to fight jetlag but when it comes to traveling with a baby, you may have to just give in to their schedule demands rather than force them to conform. In the early months, they’ll adjust to time changes easily since they sleep constantly, but older babies might just force you to stay on your usual time zone and adjust slowly. Look for flights that suit your schedule best: my baby does best on early morning or overnight flights when she tends to sleep, even if it means less rest for me. You might be off your game for the first few days when you arrive, but isn’t sleeping late and taking mid-day naps what vacations and time home with family are for? Letting the baby sleep when she wants can also help her stay healthy: you are more prone to illness if your body is exhausted. I also let her eat on demand and find breastfeeding ideal for travel, especially to keep her ears from getting clogged on take off and landing, and provide immunities to ward off sickness. Older or non-breastfed babies can have a pacifier, bottle, or sippy cup for takeoff. I’m personally not a big fan of anti-bacterials, but wash hands and anything baby touches frequently with soap and water.

We’ve survived over three dozen flights and twelve countries with no tantrums or crying, read more tips and advice in the “Knocked Up Abroad” series.

Knocked Up Abroad: Lessons Learned From Traveling With A Baby

travel with a baby
Long before I became a mother, people told me that the first six months is the easiest time to travel with a baby – before they walk, talk or require children’s activities. Others told me to travel as much as possible before you have children, as it’s too difficult to go places for the first few years. I can confirm that you don’t have to turn in your passport when you have a baby, as my daughter Vera turns one year old today (they really do grow up so fast), and I’ve traveled with her extensively since she was six weeks old, as well as frequently when I was pregnant. As she was born in Turkey, far from our families and home country, I knew travel would be a factor in her life, but never expected I would love traveling with her and try to fit in as many trips as possible (nine countries and counting).

I’ve written here on Gadling a series of articles on planning travel, flying and international travel with baby, and expanded on these topics on my blog, Knocked Up Abroad Travels. I still stand by all of those tips and tricks, but below are the most important lessons I’ve learned from traveling with a baby in the first year.

Do a test run trip
Just as a baby has to learn to crawl before they can walk, start small with your explorations. Before you plan a big trip with a baby, take a shorter “test run” to see it’s not so hard and learn what your challenges might be. Taking a short flight to an unfamiliar place, especially with a time change, language or cultural barrier, is good practice before you take a bigger trip. If you live in the U.S., a long weekend in Canada or the Caribbean, or even Chicago, could be a nice break and a useful lesson on traveling with a baby. While we live in Istanbul, travel in Europe is (relatively) cheap and quick, so taking a vacation in Malta with Vera at six weeks old was an easy first trip. For our first trip home to visit family and friends, I flew to and from the U.S. by myself with Vera. If I hadn’t traveled with her before, it might have seemed daunting to fly 10 hours solo with a baby, but it was smooth sailing. Confidence is key, especially when you learn you’ll do just fine without the bouncy seat for a few days.Stay flexible
Parenting experts may say that babies need structure and routine, but recognize that they are also very flexible, especially in the early months when they mostly sleep and eat. As long as you can attend to the baby’s immediate needs, it doesn’t matter much where you do it; a baby’s comfort zone is wherever you are. Babies also make planning near impossible. You may find that just as you planned to visit a museum, you’ll need to find somewhere to sit down to feed the baby, with a decent bathroom for changing a diaper. You might eat dinner later than expected as you walk the baby around the block a few more times to get her to sleep. We kept our first trip with Vera to Malta simple, relaxing by the sea in Gozo and wandering around the old city of Valletta: no itinerary, no must-sees, no ambitious day trips. We missed out on a few “important” sights and spent a few days doing little more than reveling in the joys of cheap wine, trashy novels and ham sandwiches, but it was stress-free and helped us to connect with the place as well as each other.

Re-consider where you stay and how you get around
Once you start planning a trip with a baby, you might be spending more time on AirBnB than Hotels.com. When you travel with a child, you care less about hotel design or public amenities like a gym (ha!) and more about in-room comfort and conveniences like a separate bedroom space or kitchenette. On an early trip, we stayed in a friend’s home in Trieste, in a vacation apartment in Venice and in a room above a cafe in Ljubljana, and each had their advantages. In Italy, it was nice to have access to laundry and space to cook a meal with friends when we were too tired to go out; while when I was on my own in Slovenia, it was handy to go downstairs for breakfast or a much-needed glass of wine, and someone was always around if I needed help with the stroller. You’ll also have to think differently about how you get around town with a stroller or carrier and plan some routes in advance. In London, I spent a lot of time on the excellent Transport For London website mapping out which tube stations had elevators and what days I would use a carrier only (I love the Boba wrap). In Venice, I didn’t bother with a stroller at all for the city’s many stairs, bridges and cobblestone streets, but needed to stop more frequently to rest my tired shoulders and was grateful for extra hands to hold the baby while I ate pasta.

Everywhere is nice in a “baby bubble”
You should be prepared to be self-sufficient when traveling with a baby, from boarding a plane to getting on a subway, but you’ll be surprised by how helpful strangers can be, especially outside the U.S. Not touching strangers’ babies seems to be a uniquely American concept, while in Mediterranean Europe, waiters will often offer to carry your baby around or give them a treat (say thanks and eat it yourself). After Istanbul, I found Budapest to be the most baby-friendly, and even trendy restaurants had changing facilities and bartenders who wanted to play peekaboo. I expected Londoners to be rather cold, but their stiff upper lips were more often smiling and cooing. A tube employee helped me carry the stroller up several flights of stairs when an elevator wasn’t working, and I got table service in a cafe that normally only had counter service. Don’t expect special treatment because you have a baby, but enjoy it when it comes.

Stay calm and carry travel insurance
Having a sick baby is scary for anyone, especially when you are in a foreign country far from home. Statistically, it’s more likely that your child will get sick or hurt at home, but it can happen on the road as well. Before you take off, figure out what you will do in an emergency: can you get travel insurance that covers a visit to a pediatrician? Can you change or cancel travel plans if the baby is sick? If you rent an apartment, do you have local contacts in case something happens? In Budapest, by myself, I had a few incidents getting stuck in an elevator, locked out of our apartment and having the baby slip out of a highchair. Everything worked out fine, but staying calm was key as upsetting the baby would have just added to the stress. Coming back from Belgrade last month, our daughter woke up with a cold and a mild fever the day we were supposed to fly home. Our wonderful AirBnB hostess got us medicine and we ultimately decided to fly the short trip as scheduled, but if it had been more serious, I could have paid the change fee to delay our flight and visit a local doctor. The baby was fine the next day, though I still have some Serbian fever reducer for her next cold.

Don’t let the turkeys get you down
Perhaps I’ve become more sensitive to the idea, but I’ve noticed recently that screaming babies on airplanes have become the catch-all complaint for everything that’s wrong with air travel (though in Gadling’s Airline Madness tournament of travel annoyances, children didn’t make it to the final four). Look up any news story about children and airplanes and you’ll find a long list of angry commenters complaining about how they don’t want to sit next to your “brat” on the plane, and that you shouldn’t subject other people to your lifestyle choices. A crying baby is not an inevitability, and planes are still public transportation, so don’t get psyched out by the looks and comments from other passengers. After 22 flights with Vera without a tantrum or crying fit, I’ve learned that the most important thing is to pay attention to your baby and be considerate of others. I still tell my airplane “neighbors” that I’ll do whatever it takes to keep her quiet and happy, and by the time we land, we’ve made more friends than enemies.

Enjoy it while it lasts
The first two years are the cheapest time to travel with a child: domestic air travel is free for lap children, international tickets are a fraction (usually 10 percent) of the adult fare, and most hotels and museums allow babies free of charge for the first few years. This time is also the most “adult” you’ll have for awhile, before you have to consider the whims and boredom of a child. Vera’s first year has been delightfully kid-menu and Disney-free. In a few years we may have to rethink our itinerary and even our destinations, but so far, not much has changed. We still love going to post-Soviet cities, wandering around oddball museums and sitting outside at wine bars to people watch, though our bedtime might be a bit earlier.

Share your lessons learned while traveling with a baby, or tell me what I’m in for in year two in the comments below.

In Praise Of Service Journalism

service journalism - travel magazinesMy career in the travel world started out by pure luck. I was assigned to work a temp office gig in the PR department of Condé Nast Traveler for two weeks, which turned into two years at the magazine, four more at a PR agency for hotels and travel providers and two more here at Gadling. Before and throughout my career, I’ve always been a major consumer of travel media, whether I’ve used it to inspire and help plan my personal travels, as a resource for how and where to pitch my clients, or for story ideas and to keep up with industry news. Some of my favorite stories to read or write have been service pieces, the much-maligned but reader-popular side of journalism.

Service journalism has been called the “fast food” of journalism, providing the reader with “5 of the World’s Sexiest Beaches!” or a suggested itinerary for exploring the city as in the New York Times‘ regular “36 Hours in..” series. While a narrative feature might probe into a culture’s essence, or try to evoke the feeling of a certain place in time, a service piece gives you quick tips, highlights the “best” of a place and may include lists, bullets and infographics. I like the definition of service journalism as “informational“: it tells you not just about a place, but how to get there, where to stay, what to eat, etc.At Condé Nast Traveler we promoted many different magazine articles from investigative stories on airline security to roundups of romantic getaways for Valentine’s Day, and it was generally the articles on how to save money booking your next cruise, or hotel packages involving chocolate-dipped strawberries that got an editor booked on the Today Show or a mention on the Associated Press. At Traveler, I worked with Consumer News Editor Wendy Perrin, whom I might call the Meryl Streep of service journalism: well-known and beloved in the industry, frequently honored but not as much as she deserves. Wendy publishes annual guides to the best travel agents, vacation rentals, cruise ships and dream trips. She was also a pioneer in social media, as one of the first “old media” editors to start blogging, and an early advocate of social networking platforms like Twitter as an essential tool for travelers. While a guide to the best credit cards for racking up frequent flyer miles may not sound poetic, Wendy’s writing regularly affects readers in a very real way, and she maintains an open dialogue to make sure readers are taking the best trip possible.

While I might read a travel narrative or even a novel to be transported somewhere else, a service piece helps me actually get going somewhere else. It was a L.A. Times article on the Corn Islands that got me to go to Nicaragua in 2007; of the few other Americans I met there, most of them were there because of the piece as well. A recent post from Legal Nomads might look like a standard list of travel tips, but it’s peppered with anecdotes, insights and links to other travel stories, and I was transported around the world with Jodi (and craving oranges) while I read it. A Nile Guide roundup of decaying castles has me plotting a trip to Belgium. Some of my favorite and most heart-felt articles I’ve written for Gadling have included finding the expat community and tips on travel with a baby. The Society for American Travel Writers’ annual awards have a category for service-oriented stories, but a few service pieces have snuck their way into other categories, such as the deceptively simple-sounding “Ten Reasons to Visit New Orleans.”

Looking through several of the major travel magazines, most stories are now accompanied by some kind of service information: a sidebar on farmers markets to accompany an essay on eating locally, or a back-of-book addendum of hotels and practical tips for a feature on a changing city’s political landscape. Perhaps all travel media should strive for this mix of inspirational, educational and doable. Our own Features Editor Don George explains that a successful travel narrative should describe a “quest that illuminates a place and culture.” A top ten list of summer vacation may not provide such a point, but a feature on visiting the Seychelles on a budget just might. Not all service pieces have to be fluffy, or recycled from press releases, or lacking insight. They can contain mini-narratives and discoveries, and at best, give readers the tools to create their own.

Babies and first class: why is this an issue?

babies first classEarlier this week, I saw a story about babies and first class air travel posted on Facebook. The Facebook poster asked our own Heather Poole (flight attendant, mother, and new book author!) for her thoughts on the story, and she replied, “I’m fine with babies in first class. Usually they just sleep.” Columnist Brett Snyder is a frequent flier and new dad wondering if he should use miles to upgrade his first flight with the baby. Reading the article and the many comments, I wonder: why is this (or really any story about babies and airplanes) a contentious issue?

Long before I even thought about having children, I thought the same about babies in first class that I thought about anyone in the front of the plane: must be nice for them. Sure, it might be a waste of money to give a premium seat to someone whose legs don’t touch the ground and who can’t enjoy the free Champagne, but it’s the parents’ choice to splurge on the ticket. If the parents are more comfortable, the kid might be happier and thus quiet — a win-win for everyone on the plane. Does the child “deserve” to sit up front? Perhaps not, but airplane seating has never been based on merit. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, a passenger is a passenger, no matter how small.As the veteran of nearly 20 flights with an infant in Europe, the US and trans-Atlantic, I’ve been fortunate to fly a few times with my daughter in business class. While the roomy seats and meals make a 10 hour flight easier with a baby, more valuable is the ability to skip check-in and security lines, board the plane early, and spend layovers in a spacious lounge with a place to heat baby food or change a diaper. Some of those perks used to be standard for all passengers with small children, but have now gone the way of the hot meal in coach. Some airlines still make travel easier for parents: JetBlue is one of the only US-based airlines to allow you to gate-check a stroller of any size and check your first bag free (checking a bag becomes inevitable with a baby). Gulf Air offers free “Sky Nannies” on long-haul flights for young children, and Lufthansa offers a guide service (for a fee) to escort families traveling through their German hubs. Turkish Airlines (my most frequently-used airline while I live in Istanbul) always offers a “baby meal” and blocks off empty seats when possible to give us more room.

I’m also fortunate to have an easy baby who so far (knock on wood) has been very well behaved on every flight. This is in part very good luck, but also due to the fact that I watch her constantly and head off any signs of crying before they start. I’ll hold and feed her as often as it takes, even if it means I rarely rest anymore on a plane. Many of the same people who’ve given me “the look” when boarding with an infant have complimented me after on her behavior. Brett also notes in his article: “Don’t just sit there while your baby screams. Do everything you can to calm him and people will be more understanding.” This is good advice, but does it really need to be said?! I’d never dream of sitting by idly while my child disturbed other people and I’m embarrassed by any other parents who would consider such behavior acceptable. Still, I recognize that even with the most watchful parents, sometimes a cranky baby is unavoidable but I hope that when/if that day comes, my fellow passengers will see how hard I’m trying to make the flight easier for all of us. Better still, if I anticipate a difficult age for my baby to fly, I’ll look into alternative methods of travel (or postpone until an easier time).

If we are going to ban babies from first class, or even segregate them from adults on all flights, why stop there? Why not a separate flight for the armrest-hogs, the obese, the incessant talkers, or the drunk and belligerent? I’d like a plane full of only frequent flyers, who know not to use their cell phone after the door closes, who don’t rush the aisles the minute the wheels touch down, who don’t recline their seats during drink service or bring smelly food (or nail polish) onto the plane. Start flights for only considerate, experienced travelers and you will find me in the front of the plane, with my baby on my lap.

For more about (considerate) travel with a baby, read my past “Knocked Up Abroad” stories here.

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