Knocked up abroad: international travel with a baby

This 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.

Sexy titanium travel accessories from Snow Peak

The spork is one of those things you really shouldn’t leave home without. Yeah, it’s dorky and has funny name, but it’s your friend when you want a yogurt from the corner market and all you have to eat it with are those stir sticks in the hotel coffee condiment package.

And the refillable coffee or other beverage canister, well, are you really still taking your coffee to go in a throw away paper cup? It’s not like you can’t find those refillable things as swag at every other conference you attend, right?

Say you’re not too uptight to reuse your own coffee container, but you don’t want one that says “large software company” or “weird beverage with additives” on the side. Say you want something that’s mad stylish, sexy even. Say you want your spork to express the fact that you are traveling light, practical, and know your metallic elements. Snow Peak has the gear for you and it’s dead sexy stuff, too.

Here’s what hot about the spork: The colors, for starters, those yummy brushed metal colors. They’re not painted, the color is bonded to the metal through some kind of crazy magic, so while yeah, they’ll fade over time, they’ll still hold that shiny blue, that that glowing purple, that sparkly green.There’s a punchhole on the handle so you can put it on your key ring. And really, it’s pretty. Also, for now, there’s no mention of the mighty spork on the TSA’s prohibited items list — I checked.As for Snow Peak’s Kanpai bottle/canister, it’s super sharp too, and super light weight. It’s got three lids for it — one for hot, one for cold, and one with a sliding valve for drinking. You can store the cold lid in the freezer, making your canister the perfect tiny icebox for one can of soda (or, uh, adult beverage). The drinking lid has a tight enough valve on it that it’s not going to leak when it’s in the water bottle pocket on the outside of your daypack. It comes in silver white, or red, and it’s also a very sharp looking piece of gear.

Snow Peak makes a lot of other smokin’ hot gear — their Hozuki camping lantern won a Travel+Leisure design award. The gear in the Snow Peak lines isn’t cheap (the spork comes in at a modest $9.95, but the canister retails for $69.95.) but it’s well designed. It’s the kind of stuff an outdoorsy person like me wants someone to give them as a gift, or that you’d want to give to someone that’s got everything but might appreciate a really good one that’s meant to last forever. (See also: Cafe latte set. Want.) Super lightweight. Serious style. Yeah, I like pretty much all of this stuff. It’s the truth.

Experiencing Japan through vending machines

One of my favorite ways to experience a place is through street foods. Young and old, rich and poor, men and women all enjoy a quick pick-me-up at some point, and that makes street feed the great equalizer. When I was in Japan in May of 2008, I was mesmerized by the sheer number of vending machines on the streets that supplement (and, in some neighborhoods, replace) street vendors.

Not one to pass up an opportunity to enjoy some local flavor (pun alert!), I purchased a bottle of amino suppli3 on my first day. Amused by the name of the beverage, I snapped a photo of the bottle. Later that same day, while waiting for a train, I purchased an Ice Cocoa on the platform because the metal bottle caught my eye. Again, I snapped a photo and then enjoyed the cool, chocolaty liquid. It was at that moment that I realized that I was on to something: Japan (or at least Tokyo) is less about street food and more about street vending machines. And I was going to document that.

Over ten days in Japan I purchased and drank 26 different beverages from vending machines. And I took a picture of every single one of them. Some, like Pocari Sweat, were great. Others tasted like Robitussin. All of them, however, were part of one of my favorite activities in Japan: exploring the local flavors. Because of that, they are all fond memories.

How do you explore new places? Have you ever created an interesting album of foods or drinks from a specific trip? Share your story with us in the comments.


Conflict bubbles over Swiss “Champagne”

The French are a particularly jealous bunch when it comes to the sparkling wine better known as Champagne. As Anna pointed out in this earlier post, European trade laws mandate that only sparkling wine from the French region of the same name can truthfully be labeled as “Champagne.” The French government has taken numerous steps to preserve their ownership of this name, going so far as to restrict the number of French vineyards that can operate within the Champagne region and filing numerous lawsuits against other wines that try to use it.

But lately, French efforts to restrict the Champagne brand name seem to be getting out of hand. As this article reports, the small Swiss town of Champagne, first named in the year 885, is fighting the French government to continue using the city’s name on its local wine. Apparently the city used to sell as many as 110,000 bottles of local wine using the town’s name, a quantity that fell to only 32,000 bottles last year when the Champagne name was removed from the label. That’s quite a difference.

While the whole naming controversy does seem a bit silly, I can understand the rationale. The French have cultivated a world famous brand and have profited handsomely from its popularity. The same is true of any other famous foodstuff, be it vodka from Russia, steaks from Argentina or oranges from Florida. But just how much of the popularity of a famous food brand is hype and how much is substance? Some will argue that nothing beats the “real thing,” but ultimately I think it’s a question that can only be answered by our stomachs. Some might scoff, but maybe a Swiss Champagne is equally as good as a French one? France, it’s time to grab a glass of bubbly and chill out.

TSA-friendly wine bag

Everyone always asks me to bring wine from Spain which I’ve stopped doing since a bottle once cracked and left a unique and lovely red design on my new cream colored corduroy pants. Also, wrapping them is a headache: bubble-wrap, then paper, then wrapping paper, then a T-shirt, and you still need to keep your fingers crossed that you will have the bottle in one piece; and they are so heavy to carry in hand luggage!

Well, Bottlewise seems to have found a solution with their TSA-friendly wine bags. Each Bottlewise Duo (US$48.95) bag holds two bottles in well-padded, removable zipper bags, and can fit easily in your check-in luggage. This also means that you don’t have to buy your wine at Duty Free anymore, you can buy exactly what you want, gift-wrap it the way you want, and not worry about lugging it around in your hand-luggage. If you are still worried about cracks, you can opt for the Bottlewise Duo Plus (US$58.95), which comes with more padding.

[Via LA Times]