Knocked up abroad: international travel with a baby

travel with a babyThis is the third in Knocked Up Abroad‘s guide to traveling with a baby. Before you go, see tips on planning travel and flying with a baby.

So you’ve decided to travel abroad with your new family addition, well done! You’ve chosen the best baby-friendly destination, packed light, and even survived the long flight. Now that you’re on the ground, possibly recovering from jet lag and hopefully learning new foreign phrases for “what a cute baby!,” how can you ensure you and your baby have a fun and relaxing vacation? After five countries in under four months (several of them without other adults), I can say it mostly comes down to attitude and planning. Here are my tips for international travel with a baby:

-Don’t expect the world to cater to you. The most important thing to bring on a trip with a baby is the right attitude. If you travel expecting every restaurant to have a baby-changing table in the bathroom (which they probably won’t, especially in Europe) or that public transportation should be stroller-accessible, you can be sorely disappointed. Keep your expectations low and get creative. I’ve changed my baby on many toilet seat lids, on top of and even in sinks (stuff your diaper bag in to make a flat base), and occasionally in her stroller. Allow yourself to be surprised by people, too. In New York, I was prepared to carry my stroller up and down stairs at some subway stops by myself, yet I was helped by strangers every time. A restaurant owner in Italy set up a makeshift table on top of their deep freezer when she saw me struggling to change the baby on a sink top. Look at inconveniences as part of the adventure rather than a sign you should have stayed home.-Plan your logistics carefully, and then let the rest of your plans go. As noted previously, it pays to do your research before departing. Each day of your trip, plan out where you want to go, how to get there, and what you might need but realize that you might not do any of it. In Malta, there was a wine festival in the next town with cheap tastings and free food, but a cranky baby meant we stayed within walking distance of our apartment (good thing too, or we could have missed a great parade). In Slovenia, we had to make a detour back to our hotel after a diaper incident meant I had to strip my baby down to just her winter coat and diaper. Babies can be unpredictable, so you may need stop at a cafe to feed a baby, take an extra walk around the block before bed to soothe crying, or go back to your room early when the weather turns bad. While combination transit or tourist passes might be a good value, they won’t be if your baby won’t go in a museum without screaming or prefers an open-air stroll to a bus ride.

-Find favorite rest stops. When you need to take a time out from exploring to feed or change your baby, there can be some comfortable places to stop that exist in nearly every destination. Museums and large hotels tend to have nice bathrooms, sometimes with changing facilities. Large baby stores may have a private nursing room or a place to change the baby, plus plenty of gear and gadgets if you need them. Pharmacists generally speak English and carry nearly all of the necessities. At night, however, you may have to be creative again. I tend to visit the same cafes in Istanbul again and again not just for the food but for the bathrooms, the waiters who rush to coddle and play with the baby, and comfy seating while I feed her.

-Breast is best when traveling. While it’s a personal choice how you feed your baby, if you can and want to breastfeed, there is evidence both anecdotal and scientific to support that breastfeeding is preferred while traveling. According to the CDC, it provides needed immunities, nutrition, and hydration for the baby. Even if the mother gets traveler diarrhea, breastfeeding can help to protect from contaminants and rehydrate the baby. It’s also convenient: perfectly packaged, the right temperature, and nothing goes to waste! Nursing mothers may still want to carry a manual pump and store a spare bottle or two. So far, I’ve found every country to be friendly to breastfeeding mothers, though I carry and use a scarf for modesty and spit-up. La Leche League has resources in many countries if you need help, check their map for local groups.

-Document your baby’s trip. It goes without saying that you’ll take plenty of photos and perhaps journal, blog, or tweet your trip, but it helps to document the more mundane activities too. When my baby was born, I got a set of cute notebooks to help me keep track of her feeding and sleeping schedule and diaper changes. I maintained it faithfully only for the first month or two, but now try to revive the records when I travel. Especially if you’re dealing with a big time change, it can help you to figure out how the baby is adjusting by keeping track of how often they eat and how long they sleep at a stretch. It’s also useful when deciding how many diapers to buy so you don’t get caught short or hauling around a mega pack. In the event that your baby gets sick (fingers crossed that they don’t!) during or after your trip, you can tell the doctor if anything is out of the ordinary and help pinpoint causes. You don’t need a fancy notebook either, you can jot down notes on the back of a museum ticket or restaurant receipt while you’re making a pit stop.

-Pack “in between” clothes. If your baby has clothes that he is about to grow out of, bring them along on your travels. If they have only one or two more wears left in them, you won’t mind if they get left behind in a hotel room, will have less to launder or carry, and you’ll probably take many photos of your baby so you can remember a favorite outfit before it gets too small. Keep a spare in your diaper or day bag in case of a changing emergency.

-Know your conversions. Do you know your baby’s weight in kilograms? Does 39 degrees sound hot or cold to you? If you’re American, you probably suffer from the disadvantage of not knowing the metric system used by the rest of the world. You’ll need to know measurements when buying diapers as size numbers might change between countries. My baby was born weighing 3.4 kilos (about 7.5 pounds) and wears a size 2 Pampers in every European country, but wore a size 1 in the same brand of American diapers. In case of a fever while traveling, you should know what temperatures require a visit to a local doctor or just a dose of Children’s Tylenol (which is called Calpol in many other countries, by the way). This info is all online, of course, but it can’t hurt to jot it down in your wallet just in case.

-Carry lots of bags. One of the more useful items to pack and/or collect on your trip is bags disposable, resealable, and reuseable. Bottles can be kept clean and stained clothing can be kept separate from the rest of your stuff in a Ziploc bag (bring a stash from home, they are harder to find in some countries). Supermarket store plastic bags are useful for laundry and diapers until you can deal with them properly. You’ll be going to the store more than usual for baby supplies, and many countries don’t supply bags for free, so bring your own reuseable tote for groceries, carrying gear from your luggage on an outing, or bringing souvenirs home. Bags are useful even without a baby but can also make a huge difference if you have a wet baby miles from your hotel.

What are your secret weapons for traveling with a baby? Leave us your success stories (and mistakes) in the comments.

Oktoberfest bathrooms (and tips for next year)

With so much beer consumed at Munich‘s Oktoberfest, it’s only logical that urination becomes a world-class activity. The bathrooms at the festival run the gamut from: good, fine, okay, crowded, packed and insane (see below) to convivial, non-existent, trees, bushes, lampposts and grass. Don’t be shocked to find many people — usually men — at the Theresienwiese (festival grounds) discharging in public. Oktoberfest is still a wonderful, memorable experience, but we human beings, well… we do have to go, so try not to be surprised.

Although I was sitting with other “specially invited guests” at of the Hacker-Pschorr Brewery on the last night of Oktoberfest, I finally had to head for a much-needed bathroom break. I’d heard about a mysterious “VIP-Pee,” but learned it was reserved for women only. So when the inevitable time came, I boxed my way down a crowded staircase, then out the door and headed for the nearest bathroom.

%Gallery-7107%After turning the corner around the exterior beer garden I encountered a dense, swelling crowd of maleness — guys of all ages and nationalities pushing to enter a small white shack labeled, “WC.” Speaking quasi-German now, “I Hav-en-to-pissen,” I joined a group of about 150 pushing hard to enter the one doorway. I was squished from the each side and back as purposeful masculine energy heaved the group forward. Against this tide, guys were attempting to exit through the one door, looking for a seam and slithering out of the onrushing squirming horde. It reminded me of a fullback attempting a tough draw through a stout defense. Most, but not all, of the guys found the situation funny, and I heard lots of German, English, Danish, Italian, Spanish, French and other languages. Some laughed while others swore with words I could not comprehend. Finally getting in, I went and turned around to get out of this insane WC. Finding some big blockers, I pushed hard against the group and popped out like a kidney stone into the fresh air. Whew, this scene was worse than when I saw Johnny Rotten at the Roseland Ballroom.

By contrast the bathroom inside the Hacker-Pschorr tent was a model of German efficiency as you stood up next to — and facing — fellow urinators standing on the other side of a partition. It was a time for light conversation, a time for reflection and a time to pee. Plus it had an actual exit door – how civilized.

Some insights for next year’s Oktoberfest which runs September 17 – October 3, 2011.

* Visit the beer tents early in the event and early in the day. You stand a much greater chance of walking in and finding a seat than in the evening. Then, you can return to your hotel early, or have dinner elsewhere. Normal, non-crazy times around lunchtime or before 4:00 PM are ideal.

* For evening fun, definitely make reservations for visiting Brewery tents. There is no fee for entrance, and again, walk-ins are welcome, but there are times when every single inch at the Oktoberfest tents are full and you’ll be left outside looking in. My favorite tents were the big Paulaner tent, the Augustina Brewery tent (the oldest brewery in Munich, dating from 1328) and my favorite, the beautiful tent from Hacker-Pschorr. Everyone has their own favorite. Ask around and do some research.

* Remember, tent reservations are free but highly sought after around the world. Use this link for reservation information. The owners of the tents aren’t exactly the breweries themselves, but it matters not for visitors. Sign up as early as possible.

* Try and order a glass of water (wasser) along with each beer. I should have had more water, especially the last night.

* Don’t forget to eat enough. It will help with beer consumption issues.

Until 2011 – Prost!

Previously:
* Oktoberfest by the numbers
* Arriving at Munich’s Oktoberfest
* Munich, Germany’s 200th Anniversary of Oktoberfest
* Beer logistics at Munich’s Oktoberfest
* Oktoberfest: Lots of food and more than 8 million gallons of beer

Bob Ecker is a Napa, California based travel writer/photographer providing worldwide magazines and newspapers with compelling travel, hospitality, wine, culinary, skiing, film and innovative feature content. He is constantly on the go, traveling the world, unearthing new stories and uncorking emerging regions. He is current Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) member and former President of the Bay Area Travel Writers (BATW).

[Images: Flickr | Ethan Prater; mahmut; Herr_bert]

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Canadian restaurant encourages patrons to have sex in its bathrooms on Valentine’s day

Forget chocolate and flowers – how about treating your loved one to sex in a restaurant bathroom?

You’ll need to travel to Toronto for the experience, but Mildred’s Temple Kitchen has announced that they’ll encourage any of their guests to use their bathrooms for some Valentine’s day nooky.

Now, I’m no prude, but I don’t think I’d be too comfortable standing in line with other couples as we patiently await our turn to have sex in a bathroom.

Sure, Mildred’s says they’ll provide a maid for the day to keep things clean, but I think I’d much rather just get a hotel room for a couple of hours than try to mess around in a cramped bathroom that was just used for the same purpose by the previous couple.

Still, even though the restaurant claims that having sex in a bathroom is on a list of 101 places you should have sex before you die, I’m just not convinced that doing it on a day when the restaurant promotes and encourages it is so exciting. If you really want to spice things up, do it on a day that is not promoted as “have sex in our bathrooms day”.

Of course, thanks to the Internet, viral stories like this are a fantastic way to create buzz for any company, and I don’t think Mildred’s Temple Kitchen will have any open tables for Valentine’s day – even if half the tables are filled by pervs waiting to catch a glimpse at couples heading to the bathrooms.

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(Via: Huffington Post)

Six ways to enjoy Madison Square Park

Manhattan has a lot of great parks – but a handful tends to hog all the attention. Central Park is what it is; there’s just now way to compare it to anything else. Bryant Park has live performances and exhibitions (not to mention a starring role in Fashion Week) and is only a block from Times Square. And, there are others that would come to mind before you work your way down the list to one of my favorite open spaces in the city: Madison Square Park.

Don’t be misled – this park is nowhere near the “garden” of the same name. It sits between East 23d Street and East 26th Street and between Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue, in a small pocket of New York that most visitors tend to skip. So, catch the R or W train to the East 23d Street stop, and get ready to enjoy Madison Square Park in six different ways.

1. Take care of two buildings at once
The uniquely shaped Flatiron Building is right across the intersection from the southwest corner of the park, where Fifth Avenue and Broadway meet. What you may not realize, though, is that the northwest corner of the park (East 26th Street and Fifth Avenue) provides a great view of the Empire State Building. Crowds tend to form, for some reason, during morning rush hour (which sucks for the locals). Also, avoid lunch hour and evenings, as people who work nearby will get in the way of your shot.

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2. Watch some television – live
It’s not unusual to find camera crews in and around Madison Square Park. Plenty of shows shot in New York use the space. So, while you wander through, you may be lucky enough to bump into one of your faves.

3. Go to the bathroom
If you aren’t fortunate enough to spot a celeb, drink some water. This will have the predictable effect and send you to one of only a handful of self-cleaning public toilets in the New York City. It’s on the southeast corner of Madison Square Park, and a quarter buys you 15 minutes. That should be plenty of time to take interior photos of the device that guest-starred on CSI:NY.

4. Enjoy some art
There’s always a public art display of some kind in Madison Square Park. Right now, it’s Markers, an installation by Mel Kendrick, a Boston-born artist who’s now a resident of New York. This project consists of five pieces reflect the “rippling surfaces contain the fossil memory of the actions taken over time.” Like almost all the public art in Madison Square Park, Kendrick’s installation is definitely worth a look.

5. Grab a bite
Sure, it’s tempting to head over to the storied Shake Shack in the southeast corner of Madison Square Park (near the toilet/TV star/murderer). But, if you’re looking for a substantial, enjoyable sit-down meal, go up to Ben & Jack’s Steakhouse, a few blocks north on East 28th Street and Fifth Avenue. Definitely make the ribeye your meal (it was amazing), but you’d be nuts not to start with the seafood platter. Take your time, and rest your feet for a bit, especially if you’ve been wandering around the city all day. The staff is attentive and accommodating, and they will not rush you. This is a great alternative to the long waits and hope-you-can-pull-it-off reservation situations at the steakhouses in mid-town. And, the dark-wooded interior drives home the insider feel that makes any steak dinner in Manhattan complete.

6. Grab a cigar (for those inclined)
For many, the only way to finish a hefty steak dinner is with a cigar. Go local with a stick from Martinez Cigars, a few blocks away on West 29th Street and Seventh Ave. Grab a maduro, and go back to the park (while you can still smoke there). If nobody’s around, chill for a bit on the new pedestrian area just west of Madison Square Park.

Theatre in Branson, Missouri has “America’s Best Restroom”

Worst airports. Best hotels. Rating these things, I understand. But bathrooms? Yes, the Cintas Corporation recently sponsored an online vote for the best bathroom in America.

Apparently, it’s no longer good enough to offer a clean toilet (truly a luxury in some places, believe me), running water, towels and maybe a mirror for good measure. Nope, to compete in the race for best bathroom, you’ll need features like gilded chandeliers, marble fireplaces and 1,800 square feet of space. At least, that’s what the winning bathroom at the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre in Branson, Missouri offers….along with a hand-carved mahogany pool table.

I’m a get-in, get-out quickly kind of girl so I just don’t see the need for such luxurious facilities. But perhaps there really are some people who enjoy hanging out and playing a game of pool while waiting for the loo.

[via USA Today]