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]

SkyMall Monday: Mombasa the Garden Giraffe vs. Boris the Bronotosaurus

gadling mombasa the garden giraffe boris the brontosaurus
Here at SkyMall Monday, we love lawn ornaments. By now, you should know about our affinity for the Garden Yeti, his baking abilities and incredibly high threshold for pain. This week, however, we take a look at the two biggest beasts offered up in SkyMall. Rather than litter your lawn an army of tiny Garden Gnomes, it’s time that you allowed your yard to be dominated with a true giant. So, this week, it’s Mombasa the Garden Giraffe vs. Boris the Brontosaurus.

Let’s take a look at how these two fearsome competitors stack up.

gadling skymall monday mombasa the garden giraffe boris the brontosaurus

In a close battle that I wish we could see actually play itself out in a suburban backyard, Boris the Brontosaurus edges out Mombasa the Garden Giraffe the win the title of Best Massive SkyMall Lawn Ornament. However, that’s just our scientific opinion. We want to know which garden monster you prefer.

Vote in our poll and share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Check out all of the previous SkyMall Monday posts HERE.

Ethiopia’s Somali region: a potential adventure travel destination?

adventure travel, Adventure Travel, Ethiopia, camels, Somali Region
As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been exploring Ethiopia’s Somali region. While my quest for Ahmed Guray’s castle was a failure, I did see potential for adventure travel in the region.
Adventure travelers generally are looking for three things: historical sights, interesting cultures, and natural wonders. The Somali region is a bit short of historical sights, although there are a few of interest, but it’s strong on culture and nature.

First, the historical sights. The main one is Alibilal Cave in the Erer District, about 10 km (6 miles) from Erer town. This cave is covered with prehistoric paintings of cows, giraffes, gazelle, and other figures. Last year I was amazed by the prehistoric cave art of Laas Geel in Somaliland, and I’m really curious to see this cave. I’ve seen some video footage and it looks impressive. Other historical sights include the mosque I wrote about yesterday, and some colonial buildings scattered about the region.

The Somali Region is much stronger on cultural attractions. There aren’t many places left in the world where you can see camel herders living much as they did centuries ago. You can drink fresh camel milk in traditional domed huts made of mats. Try shay Somali, Somali tea that’s mixed with sugar and camel’s milk and tastes a lot like Indian chai. The culture here preserves itself by oral traditions. Sitting with a clan elder and listening to his stories can be a one-of-a-kind experience. The Somali region is the easiest place to experience Somali culture, being cheaper than Somaliland and far safer than Somalia.Most Somalis don’t speak English, of course, but I know of at least one Somali tour guide in Harar, Muhammed “Dake” (guleidhr @yahoo.com). He even spent some of his youth herding camels in this region! Harar makes the best base for seeing the Somali region. It’s much cooler and more interesting than the dusty lowland regional capital of Jijiga, and only adds an hour to your trip.

Because the Somalis are unused to tourism, adventure travelers will be free from a lot of the usual hassles like touts and pushy vendors. Expect plenty of attention though, and a large dose of curiosity. This isn’t a bad thing. You’ll get into lots of interesting conversations that will teach you about the local culture. Virtually all foreigners they see are working in NGOs, so expect a lot of questions about your development project.

Ethiopia’s Somali Region offers plenty of natural attractions for adventure travel. There are five regional parks with various types of wildlife. The Somali officials I spoke to recommended Dado Park, which has lion, giraffes, and elephants. I also got to see three families of baboons on the highway between Harar and Jijiga. Another attraction are the Somali Region’s many hot springs. Like hot springs everywhere, they’re reputed to have healing qualities and people come from all around to “take the waters”. The easiest to get to from Harar or Jijiga is in the Erer district near Erer town, not far from the Alilbilal painted cave. The town is 113 km (68 miles) from Harar and the cave and hot springs together would make a good day trip from Harar. The Erer-Gota hot springs are located on the grounds of one of Haile Selassie’s palaces (now gone to ruin) and it’s still popular with people looking for cures of various diseases. Hot springs are popular with herders too, who wrap their lunch up in cloth and stick it in the water to cook it! Reminds me of wrapping potatoes in aluminum foil and sticking it in the coals of a campfire.

Let me stress that while I’ve been through the Somali Region twice now, I haven’t seen many of these attractions myself, only heard about them from Somalis. Hopefully next year I’ll have a chance to explore this region more thoroughly. In the meantime, if you go to the Somali Region, please drop me a line and tell me your experiences. One person already has. A member of the Ethiopia-U.S. Mapping Mission wrote to tell me that he spent a year there in 1967-68 mapping the region. He had lots of fun hunting and exploring, even though he often didn’t bathe for up to two weeks at a time! Veterans of the mission have a website called the Ethiopia-United States Mapping Mission with lots of information and photos. Be sure to check out the “Stories and Memories” section.

Don’t miss the rest of my series: Harar, Ethiopia: two months in Africa’s City of Saints

Coming up next: Not sure yet. Wherever my travels in the Harar region take me!

Remote African nation saves rare giraffes from extinction

Niger doesn’t get in the news much. This landlocked Saharan nation doesn’t have much in the way of national resources, is listed by the UN as one of the world’s least developed countries, and yet it has a serious attitude towards conservation.

Niger is home to a unique subspecies of giraffe, pictured here. Poaching and desertification had reduced its numbers to only fifty individuals a decade ago, but then the people of Niger realized what they were about to lose, banned hunting, and launched a conservation program. Now thanks to these efforts the giraffes’ numbers have risen to two hundred. The Giraffe Conservation Foundation has been working with the Niger government and people to keep this positive trend going.

Strangely, the giraffes are congregating around the capital Niamey, where they can be seen wandering across farmers’ fields and drinking from troughs set out for cattle.

The government hopes the giraffes will promote tourism. While Niger is beneath most travelers’ radar, its very remoteness could be a draw for people interested in visiting traditional societies and seeing the Sahara’s harsh beauty. A night camping under the full moon in the Sahara is one of my favorite travel memories. A few giraffes walking across the silvered landscape would have made it even better.

Fancy breakfast with the giraffes?

When I was 6 years old, I was taken to Longleat National Park in the UK, where our car got attacked by monkeys, chased by lions, and gazed at by giraffes. I recall desperately wanting to pat and feed the giraffes; those tall, magnificent, doe-eyed, beautiful monsters. I also remember feeling like a Lilliputian in front of them, but they are so adorable that their sheer largeness didn’t scare me. I was smaller than the leg of an adult giraffe, and fed them however I could, sitting on the shoulders of my uncle. Pretty awesome.

So when I read that you can go to Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, where you might get woken up by a giraffe tongue in your ear, I was strangely excited about the concept.

Located in the Langata suburb, the Manor spans an area of 140 acres, and has 6 bedrooms for rent. The area is inundated with dozens of giraffes and the Manor’s windows are made so that the giraffe can let his neck in for breakfast. After the first jolt you’ll get facing a giraffe for breakfast, getting used to the idea will certainly make it the most pleasurable and unique part of the day. Giraffes are harmless herbivores, so you really have nothing to worry about.

The history of the place is interesting as the Manor used to be the house of people who spent a large part of their lives working for the cause of endangered wildlife in Africa. The family started the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife and the Giraffe Center, and now run the Giraffe Manor. Each room costs $275-360, but that includes all meals with wine, alcoholic beverages, a sight-seeing vehicle, entrance to the Giraffe Center, and taxes, so it’s not a bad deal for doing once. The Manor’s website has a cool picture gallery, check it out here.

Oh, and happy Boxing day!