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.

Undiscovered New York: Green NYC

You can’t go more than 10 feet lately without hearing about the burgeoning green movement. Whether its organic food, carbon footprints or green travel, it’s a word on the tip of everyone’s tongue. For travelers on the hunt for all things green, New York City is not exactly the first eco-destination you might conjure. Yet remarkably, the past 15 years have seen New York City dramatically cleaning up its act.

Although there’s still a long way to go, New York is more than ever a city that’s “all about the green.” From its increasingly bike-friendly streets and plentiful public transportation to bountiful farmer’s markets and eco-friendly businesses, it’s clear that New York’s residents are working hard to make the city a more green friendly place for locals and tourists alike.

Best of all, you don’t even need to work that hard to enjoy New York’s many green-friendly advantages. All you’ll need is a love of good food, a desire to get around as easily as possible and a healthy appreciation of nature. Ready to enjoy all things green in the Big Apple? Click below for Undiscovered New York’s roundup of the best Green NYC shopping, food and activities.
Grab a bike

There’s simply no way to describe the radical transformation that’s happened to biking in New York in the last 10 years. All of a sudden, bikes are everywhere – from the ubiquitous bike ownership among the city’s young and old, the increasing number of bike lanes on NYC streets and more and more bike-friendly activities.

Coming from out of town? Don’t worry, it’s easy for New York visitors to take advantage of all the biking fun. Cultural sites like Governor’s Island allow visitors to rent a cycle for the day, even giving away free hour rides each Friday. If you’re looking for more NYC bike info, check out the rental list over at Bike New York, where you can track down NYC cycle clubs, bike rentals and figure out some great local rides.

Head to the greenmarket
New Yorkers were already pretty snobby about their food before the word “organic” started to get thrown around. With the organic and local food trends in full swing, we’ve had further opportunity to gloat: New York is one of the best spots anywhere to get fresh, local produce, meat and even seafood.

One need only spend a day at one of the city’s many greenmarkets to enjoy the bounty: a cornucopia of fresh eggplant, locally grown chiles, fresh-baked organic chocolate chip cookies, and grass-fed beef are all on offer. Though Union Square is perhaps the best-known of New York’s nearly 50 greenmarkets, they can be found everywhere from the Bronx to the far reaches of Brooklyn. Check New York’s Council on the Environment website for more greenmarket info.

Shop and eat green
In recent years, New York has seen a healthy spurt of new retail stores open that cater to green purchasers. Yet it’s easy to forget that New York has hundreds of great thrift and vintage stores, offering some of the city’s best “green” shopping since long before “eco” was trendy.

Check out New York Magazine’s shopping pages or this list for some of the city’s best thrift and vintage clothing. If new stuff is more your thing, boutiques like Gomi NYC and Kaight specialize in sustainable, eco-friendly clothing. Bookworms, don’t feel left out: if you’re in the market for printed materials, why not save a few trees and check out one of New York’s massive variety of used book stores? Strand Books is among the city’s best.

After all that shopping, you’re probably going to be hungry. Don’t feel like cooking? Head to one of New York’s many restaurants that specialize in organic/locally grown ingredients. Although you’re likely to find green items on just about any NYC menu these days, there are several restaurants that specialize in “green cooking.” One spot is Chelsea’s The Green Table, known for offering some of the city’s freshest, most sustainable food. Meanwhile, downtown diners favor spots like Spring Street Natural, which has found favor among vegans, foodies and locavores alike.

A Canadian in Beijing: Vegetarian Party at Peking University

In the South Hall of the ????Beida (Peking University) library building, Beijing hosted its first annual “Vegetarian Party” on Thursday, May 17th, 2007. I met the organizer about four weeks earlier and I was excited about this event as a way to connect with more vegetarians (or vegans) in my community. Beida is just down the road and so I knew I would be in attendance. Several of my friends had also heard of it and were going.

Funny enough, when I met the organizer, I was with another friend of mine (Will) who is also a vegetarian. Will recommended that I play the event to the organizer (Howard) and we exchanged numbers that night. I never did hear from Howard but I was still keen on attending. After all, I had heard through the grapevine that there would be free food! (Musician Rule #1=always accept free food!)

It wasn’t until Monday the 14th that I also heard through the grapevine that I was performing at the event! Yes, some wires got crossed and Howard thought that Will had confirmed it with me and Will thought that Howard was handling it. It was one of my classmates who told me about my own gig! I have to laugh about it now, as it reminds me of my performance career ten years ago and how unsure everything was.

But, I’m a good sport.

I called up Howard and firmed up the details, prepared some songs and told some friends. No time to do any heavy promotion or anything, but it was a chance to get back out there as a performer in this city and to warm up before my big gig on the 23rd.

When I arrived, the room was in disarray and reminded me of my primary school’s auditorium. A tall stage on one side and chairs that link together like a lecture hall in tight rows pushed to both sides. They had tables in the middle that were being put together for the food and several volunteers were hastily trying to put up posters and prepare the audio-visual material. They had built out a shorter stage made of plywood that brought the performance closer to the chairs (a good thing) and the sound system was still being patched together. All in all, I was early. With sound checks, this is often the case.

Eventually, the sound system was ready for me and I put my pedals together and set my own levels at the sound desk. The sound guys weren’t sure what I was doing but they let me show them what I wanted. It was simple and I easily sound checked and then sat back down to wait some more and people-watch.

People were already arriving.

Eventually, the audio-visual material was running footage from American and European animal rights groups (with Chinese subtitles) and they were showing factory farming and meat production factories. It could easily have been PETA material, but I’m not sure and didn’t get a chance to ask anyone. I have seen such footage before, but one of my Chinese friends had not and he was shocked to see the beaks being snipped off of baby chicks. This, to me, was part of the point of such an event. I was happy to witness even one person learning about these behind-the-scenes atrocities. Because really, it’s all about awareness, right?! The choice is every individual’s to make but the information (with which to make an informed choice) is what is often lacking.

The place was filling up and there were probably about two hundred people in the room by the time the first act was done and “supper” was ready. Were they all vegetarians? Well, my friends weren’t. The curiosity was something, though, and I hope that some of the flyers may have been picked up and the option to be vegetarian was adequately promoted, if nothing else.

The rush to the food table was quite a sight to see. I didn’t even get up but instead relied on the generosity of my friends to grab me some food amidst the disorganized crowd. People came at the table from all directions and it looked like a giant mess. I just hoped that what came back to me was vegan. All the food was made in the western food style such as pizza (not vegan), pasta salad, lettuce salad, white bread sandwiches and pastries. All were pretty tasteless, actually, but I ate what I could, felt a bit homesick when I saw the excessive use of disposal plastic plates and bowls (i.e. vegetarian events back home see their untenable connection to the environment and generally use re-usable or biodegradable supplies), and then watched the next band: The Giant Beanstalk.

They were a scream rock group that had the added flavour of some traditional drumming that was quite well executed. Otherwise, their sound was so bad that many people left during their set. The show didn’t do their profile any favours thanks to the lack of knowledge behind the sound desk and the high reverberant ceilings that swallowed the vocals and tripled the volume of the drums. Still, they gave it their best shot and they never let down the rock’n roll moves or attitude. Gotta give credit where credit is due.

I was the next performer and throughout my show, the sound techs (students) changed everything I had set countless times and I wasn’t sure what was going on. Sound was not at a premium in this gymnasium-style room and so I really couldn’t do much but forge ahead with my quick set and ride my guitar amp levels as best as possible to compensate for their fiddling. Some things never change regardless of country or language!

My friends had never seen me play before and I felt shy that this was the quality of performance that they were seeing, but they were kind nonetheless. (Well, I guess I’m being too hard on myself with that comment.) My voice was clear and audible in the room and my Chinese fared rather well. I also sang a song in Chinese that I have recently learned and it was a huge success. I was professional and relaxed. The room was warm in response and when I finished, I had a few conversations with happy listeners in both Chinese and English. (So, there’s some more positive reflections!)

After my set, some kids were invited onto the stage to talk about how long they have been vegetarians. They were so cute and talked into the mike in simple Chinese so that even I could understand what they were saying.

Then, a little girl of about nine or ten years old came onto the stage. She was wearing a frilly party dress and carried herself with the seriousness of a born artist. She confidently sat behind a “古筝 Gu Zheng” (traditional Chinese instrument) and played a song with a furrowed brow for the now sparse crowd. She was so intent and sweet looking that when she was done there were lots of flashing cameras at her smiling, satisfied face.

What a treat to open for her.

I wish her a long life filled with vegetarian food, good health, and music at her fingertips.