Knocked up abroad: planning travel with a baby

Let’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.

Hotel Madness: Vote for your biggest hotel pet peeves

We launched our Hotel Madness tournament on Monday and the entire first round is now live. If you don’t know what Hotel Madness is or you just need a refresher, check out our introductory post. First round voting is open until 11:59pm EDT this Sunday, March 20. Be sure to vote in each and every match-up listed below. Simply choose the hotel pet peeves that bother you the most. The winners will advance to the second round, which you’ll be able to vote on next week.

Make your voices heard. Vote, leave comments and let us know what you hate most about hotels.

First round voting ends at 11:59EDT on Sunday, March 20.

Follow along with the Hotel Madness tournament here.

Hotel Madness: No free breakfast vs. Expensive minibars

This first round Hotel Madness match-up is all about food. Our #6 seed is No free breakfast, a killer when you just need some fuel to power you through a day of conferences, meetings or sightseeing. It’s battling #11 seed Expensive minibars. All too often, we find ourselves with late-night cravings for snacks. We’d satisfy it by raiding the minibar but it always seem to cost more than our hotel room did!

Take a closer look at this battle of hotel peeves below. Then cast your vote for the one that bothers you the most. The winner will advance to the second round of action.

(6) No Free Breakfast
Not everyone is a foodie. Sure, some people require that every meal, snack and crumb that they savor on a trip be culturally poignant. Other people, however, just need fuel. Or coffee. Easy enough to just stop in the lobby before the big conference/hike/day at the beach and fix yourself a simple breakfast. Sadly, your hotel offers nothing more than some instant coffee in your room. No continental breakfast. No omelet station. Certainly no buffet. Just a few teabags and non-dairy creamer. There’s a Starbucks across the street, though. $8 should get you some burnt coffee and a satisfactory to adequate muffin.

(11) Expensive Minibars
After a long day of meetings/sightseeing/tolerating your wife’s family at her nephew’s bris, you just want a nightcap and some M&Ms. You’re exhausted and everything in town is closed anyway. Of course, you can always snack in your room thanks to the ever-convenient minibar. Just grab a mini-bottle of rum, a can of cola and a bag of M&Ms and invite them all to that party in your mouth. Oh, just a heads up: those 50 milliliters of rum, 12 fluid ounces of cola and 3.27 ounces of chocolate with a hard candy shell will run you about $30. You’re also not going to feel well in the morning.

Which food foul bothers you more? Do you resent having to forage for your own breakfast or get ticked off by $10 Tic Tacs? Vote now!


First round voting ends at 11:59EDT on Sunday, March 20.

More Hotel Madness action:
#1 No free Wi-Fi vs. #16 Annoying hotel TV channel
#2 Bad front desk service vs. #15 Everything about TV remotes
#3 Expensive parking vs. #14 Tightly tucked-in sheets
#4 Resort fees vs. #13 Early housekeeping visits
#5 No airport shuttle vs. #12 One-ply toilet paper
#7 Bad water pressure vs. #10 Small towels
#8 Room not ready on time vs. #9 Early checkout times

Follow along with the Hotel Madness tournament here.

Top ten ways hotels try to save money (but shouldn’t)

The hotel industry is in a bit of a slump, and even though we are slowly starting to see some signs of recovery, no hotel will be able to declare that the recession is over just yet. So, it makes sense that hotels have been cutting corners where possible. Sadly, in their quest to save a few bucks, some properties have made the wrong decisions, and cut services or amenities in places that impact guests. Here are my top ten annoyances:

Paid WiFi and Internet access

When it comes to being cheap, Internet access tops my list of annoyances. Nothing grinds my gears more than paying $400 to spend a night in a hotel, then being asked to pay $14 just to access the Internet. I totally understand a hotel trying to earn the expense of Internet access back – but if 100 people a day pay the $14 fee to get online, the hotel will be raking in $42,000 a month, about $41,000 more than a decent business class Internet connection will cost them.

Worst of all, many of the paid Internet services are slow and unreliable – and trying to get a refund for poor service is often very hard as hotels will claim the Internet is provided by a third party.
Wall mounted generic soap dispensers instead of bottles

This is a nasty new trend – instead of those cute little bottles, hotels are now switching to wall mounted soap dispensers. And yes – I understand that this is more “green”, and that all those little bottles usually end up coming home with you anyway, but the dispensers are just tacky and each press only dispenses enough shampoo for a quarter your hair – so you end up having to pump away. But worst of all, you never really know what is in the dispensers as they don’t display any brand or ingredients. You just use it and hope for the best.

[Photo from Flickr/cote]

Mattress topper instead of new mattress

When your mattress at home is worn out, you raid your bank account, and invest in a new mattress. At some hotels, they invest in a cheap mattress topper instead, and delay the investment for a couple of years. I won’t name the property, but I recently spent the night at a very upscale hotel that did just that. The mattress was saggy and dirty, but the $50 topper was supposed to hide this. End result was a bad nights sleep and a mattress topper that kept sliding off the mattress.

TV inputs disabled

There is almost no way to describe how much this one annoys me without swearing. Too many hotels are forcing you to use their overpriced pay per view crap by disabling all the inputs on the TV. This means you have no way to connect your iPod or laptop. In the end, the hotel will lose out, because once I realize this, I’ll never ever spend the night there again. All just so they can hope I spend $14 on a bad movie.

The funny part is that quite a lot of cheaper hotel chains are investing in ways to help make connecting to the TV easier, while others put effort into blocking all access to them. If I know I’ll be in my room for a couple of hours, I’ll often pick a chain that I know won’t prevent me from watching a movie on their TV. Hyatt Place hotels are a good example of a chain that understands the needs of their guests – offering a full panel of external connection.

HD TV but no HD channels / too many promotional channels

What kind of hotel invests in nice HD flat panel TV’s, but doesn’t upgrade their systems to actually allow for HD content? Obviously a cheap hotel. One that doesn’t care that SD TV programming looks horrible on an HD TV.

While on the topic of bad channels – I also dislike hotels where more than 25% of their programming is to promote their various services. Do they really need dedicated channels for the shops, the spa, the fitness center, the restaurants and more?

Minibar with sensors

Sensor equipped minibars are designed for two reasons – to save the hotel a ton of money, and to catch cheaters who remove bottles and refill them with apple juice (or something worse). Problem is, the sensors are designed to charge you any time you so much as sneeze with the fridge door open. Also, on most models, there is no delay timer, so don’t even think about checking the ingredients or branding on a bottle. As soon as you remove it, a computer adds the charge to your bill.

Check-in desk/bar/cafe staff

They call them “hip hotels” or “business class hotels” – I call them a pain in the ass. When I check in to a hotel, I don’t want to wait for the front desk staff to finish baking a pizza – I want to hand them my credit card and receive a room key. I’m all for improving the amenities, but not if it means the front desk staff also have to become wait staff, chef and bartender.

Resort fees

This new moneymaker has been around for some time, but is usually found in Las Vegas. What started as a small surcharge to cover things like local calls and pool access can now become an extra fee worth as much as half your room rate. In Vegas, some properties charge up to $25/night as a “resort fee”. Thankfully, the Harrahs’s Las Vegas properties advertise heavily that they don’t charge these fees, so vote with your wallet and let other properties know that you’d rather waste your money gambling than on resort fees.

Occupancy sensing thermostats

This is another part of the hotel that has fallen victim to the green movement. Occupancy sensing thermostats are horrible. They stop working when they think I left the room – which means they don’t mind raising the temperature in the middle of the night, forcing me to wake up every hour and walk around just to turn the AC on again.

So here you go – next time you run into an Inncom sensor thermostat (the most popular brand), here is the VIP override code to disable the sensor and set the damn thing any way you want (thanks to Flyertalk):

  • While holding down “display”
  • Press “off”, then
  • Press “Up” arrow
  • Release “display” button

No iron, no minibar, no safe, no hair dryer

Iron is available at the front desk. Hair dryer available upon request. All things that save the hotel a ton of money. Instead of buying 200 irons, they just buy ten, and make you beg for one when you need it. Other things that are slowly disappearing from many hotels – the minibar and the in-room safe.

Decisions like this are made by accountants who never stay at a hotel, and think that they have just found the perfect way to cut costs. In reality, they are telling their customers that the hotel is too cheap to provide the amenities guests need.


The best from the world of overpriced minibar items

I’d be insulting your intelligence if I asked whether you knew that the hotel minibar was overpriced. It is something we all just take for granted. However, every now and then the hotel tries to take things to the next level. Take for example this “couples pleasure kit”. It is pretty normal for a hotel to charge $20 for a cardboard box and two $1 condoms, but the Gild Hall hotel in New York city actually has the guts to demand $195 for their kit.

Sure, you’ll get a vibrator, handcuffs, condoms and lube, but seriously – $195? That scores an A+ on the ripoff meter.
$10 imported Scottish water

Water is the biggest scam in any hotel minibar. Hotels market their water perfectly – putting it right next to your bed, in the hope that you’ll arrive parched and might miss the price tag assuming the water is free.

In recent years, hotels have discovered premium water brands, and traded the $3 generic bottle for a bottle of eau de euverpriced. The Mansfield Hotel in New York City offers guests a large bottle of imported Scottish water. For $10. You need to be a special kind of thirsty to drop ten bucks on a bottle of water.

$14 Gummi bears

Minibar candy sucks. You’ll rarely find a good old Snickers bar, but there is never a shortage of overpriced organic weirdness. Or, like at the Omni Berkshire Place, a metal container with gummi bears. $14 gets you about 30 of the little bears, which means you’ll be paying just under 50 cents for each of them. Better eat them slowly.

Dealing with bad breath can save you $14

At the W hotel – The Tuscany, in New York City, the overpriced selection includes a $14 toothbrush and toothpaste. Even though a small dental set is offered for free at most decent hotels, the upscale W thought you’d have plenty of cash left to pay for their set.

Pricey water – in three sizes

The Amalfi Hotel in Chicago is another of those properties that discovered the money making machine that is water. Thankfully, they cater to all kinds of thirst with three different bottles. If you are “two large gulps” thirsty, that will be $5. If you are “need expensive imported water” thirsty, it’ll cost $7. All three bottles cost just $19. Which is about $15 more than the price you’d pay in a retail store.

(Many thanks to Oyster Hotel Reviews for providing some of the content for this article!)