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.

Budget Travel helps you plan a nonstop Caribbean getaway

As the northern half of the US starts to get cold and skies turn grey with threats of snow, thoughts naturally begin to turn to weekend getaways to warmer climes. The Caribbean is calling, but when it takes two or more connections to get there from your city, it’s hard to escape for a quick weekend warm-up.

If you don’t know which islands can be reached in one flight from where you live, Budget Travel can help. The magazine has a new online tool that can help make planning a trip to the Caribbean islands a little easier. Their “Nonstop Caribbean” destination finder shows you which islands are accessible via nonstop flight from your city. It also tells you which airlines make the flight and how long the flight lasts. The tool can even help you plan your vacation, with suggestions on which hotels to stay at and what activities to do on the island.

Your ticket was expensive and your plane crowded, but at least you took off on time

Is there an upside to the fact that the airline industry is struggling? Perhaps you can feel smug knowing that the CEOs of legacy carriers will probably be taking home six-figure bonuses this year, instead of the usual seven or eight digit haul (“Ha, greedy bastards finally got what they deserve,” you might say to yourself).

But all you smiling, glass-half-full folks out there can take comfort in this: airlines have the highest on-time percentages they’ve had in a long, long time. According to USAToday, 86% of all flights were on time during the month of October. That is compared to 78% during the same month of 2007.

A plane is considered on time if it reaches its destination within 15 minutes of its scheduled arrival time. I assume they mean less than 15 minutes later than scheduled; although I’m sure there is the odd person out there who might be put off by arriving 15 minutes early.

So look on the bright side of air travel. You may have to spend more for your ticket and your plane is bound to be crowded and, perhaps, noisy. But at least you have a good chance of getting where you are going on time.

Galley Gossip: Bids are out! (my schedule, a little airline lingo, and a flight attendant poll)

“Bids are out!”

Those three words are exclaimed each and every month by flight attendants (and pilots) around the world. Perhaps you’ve even witnessed a crew of four (or more) call out the three words above as they briskly walk through the terminal and pass another crew of four (or more) on their way to the gate.

Maybe you’ve wondered, what does that mean, as you stood waiting for your delayed flight to board. And while you continued to stand there impatiently waiting, you watched as four (or more) cell phones were simultaneously flipped open and placed to the ear. Rest assured that call must be made upon hearing those three words. If it can’t happen right then and there, it will happen very shortly, even if the flight attendant has to hide in the lavatory during the boarding process to make it happen. Why? BECAUSE THE BIDS ARE OUT!

BID, BIDS, BIDDING, BID SHEET – a request of choice routes made by each flight attendant to fly specific monthly schedules. At the airline I work for, our bid sheet offers over hundreds of lines to choose from. Bids are awarded by company seniority, which is why those flights to Asia and Europe always have the most senior flight attendants working the trip.

LINE, LINE HOLDER – a sequence of trips a flight attendant is offered each month. A line holder is not on reserve and works each of those trips in consecutive order.

RESERVE – Reserve flight attendants do not have a line. They bid for days off only. When they don’t have a day off, they remain on-call, meaning the company can (and will) assign the flight attendant a trip at any time of day (or night), with at least two hours time to get to the airport. Reserve duty is much like an on-call doctor. We must stay within a manageable radius of our base (mine covers three airports JFK, LGA and EWR). The flight attendant must be duty ready whenever on reserve. This means you must be ready to board a flight within one hour of its departure, which means there are no late nights out and absolutely no alcohol, since you can (and will) be called out to work any time of day or night. I remember one night having a quiet evening at home with a movie and Chinese take out. The food had not even arrived to my apartment and I was already leaving for a trip to London! There’s no warning, no lead time, and no excuses.

JUNIOR, SENIOR, SENIORITY – Refers to a flight attendants years of experience. Years of experience with an airline is based on date of hire. Seniority is everything at an airline, which is why the merging of most airlines does not happen smoothly. Junior flight attendants have to serve on reserve. In order to avoid having to do reserve duty , I commute from my home in Los Angeles (one of our most senior bases in the system) to New York (our most junior base). For me it is better to commute and be a big fish in a little pond than to work from home and have the uncertainty of my schedule loom over our family.

BASE – City in which a crew member originates and ends a trip. All trips start and end from ones base.

COMMUTE, COMMUTER, COMMUTING – the process of getting to your base city. I commute to work from Los Angeles to New York before each trip. Most airline employees who commute to work spend the night in a crash-pad. Like many flight attendants, my crash-pad is located very close to two of the three airports in my base city.

TURN, TURNS, TURNAROUND – any trip that originates from and returns to the same city on the same day. It is not uncommon for a flight attendant to see several cities over the course of 48hrs, only to arrive back to the city they left from. I have flown from LGA to ORD to DFW back to ORD and arrived back in LGA only to come home, shower, sleep and do it all over again the very next day.

Last week, after spending a good four days in a row staring cross-eyed at the bid sheet, I found out that for the month of November I was awarded line 50. Chicago turns. My particular trip will depart to Chicago a little after noon and return to New York just before midnight on the same day. Turns, are not my trip of choice, but we’ll get to that later.

Flight attendants bid once a month, near the end of the month, for a schedule the following month. I know, it’s confusing, but stick with me. Each line shows exactly what days and which trips a flight attendant will be working for the month. So whenever you see a couple of crew members sitting in the terminal, or on the jump-seat, with their noses glued to a packet of papers for hours on end, nine times out of ten they’re studying the bid sheet. This is not the time for chit chat, so unless you have a serious concern to discuss, or food to share, do not disturb the flight attendant. Bidding, for a flight attendant, is very serious business.

TRANSCONS – a transcontinental, across country, or coast to coast flight.

TRADING, DROPPING, PICKING UP – the act of swapping, giving away, or taking another flight attendant’s trip.

BACK UP, BACKING UP: working several trips in a row in order to have several days off in a row.

WIDEBODY – any aircraft with two aisles. The bigger the airplane, the more senior the crew.

NARROWBODY – any aircraft with a single aisle.

When I bid, I choose to work the transcons because they are easy to drop. I’m a commuter, and because I don’t want to waste my precious days off flying back and forth across the country, I back my trips up. That means at some point during the month I’ll fly to New York as a stand by passenger, spend the night in my crash-pad, work back and forth across the country as many times as possible in seven days, and then fly home to Los Angeles, which is where I’ll stay because I’m done for the month. Yeah, I know, it’s a good life – until all the flights to base are oversold, canceled, delayed and I’m unable to make it to work.

But remember, unlike most of my colleagues, I’m a low time flier, which pretty much means I work part time. In order to do this, I have to hold something desirable, not necessarily what I want to work, but what others prefer to work. Transcons on the widebody are the most sought after trips. Since I’m now a domestic flight attendant, I bid the flights to Los Angeles from New York. They’re easy, worth a lot of money, rarely ever cancel, and if I do decide to work one, I can layover at home with my family, not the layover hotel.

The reason I bid Chicago turns, and not transcons, for the month of November is because that line was the first line I could hold with Thanksgiving off. Yes, believe it or not, this will be the first Thanksgiving I’ve held off in thirteen years of flying. I’m way too junior to hold a holiday off on a line of transcons. In fact, I can barely hold transcons on non-holiday months, and if I do, I’ll most likely be working in business class, the most junior position on the aircraft, which is not a position you want to work if you’re trying to drop the trip.

TRIP TRADE, TRIP TRADER – the act of trading trips with another flight attendant. As this can prove to be a daunting task, flight attendants hire a person who manages, (for a fee), several different flight attendant schedules at once.

The first thing I do when bids are finalized is call my trip trader. She is one of the most important people in my life. Without her I don’t know what I would do. She makes my life work. Actually, what she does is make it possible for me to work, because it’s not easy when you have a two-year old child at home and you are married to a man who travels over 100,000 miles a year, and you don’t have family around to help when you’re out of town.

Now I have no idea how my trip trader does what she does, but the girl works magic, and I love her for that! In fact, I just checked my schedule and most of my Chicago turns have already disappeared. YES! And I’ve got two fantastic San Francisco transcons backed up in the middle of the month on my schedule! WOO-HOO! I love my trip trader, and life is good.

So good, in fact, I’m about to purchase three airline tickets to fly home to Dallas for the Thanksgiving holidays. Remember, this is the first Thanksgiving I’ll be celebrating at a home, and not in a dumpy airport hotel. Yes, I can fly for free as a stand by passenger, but like I said, I actually want to make it home for the holidays. What I don’t want to do is spend the holiday weekend getting bumped from flight to flight traveling with the family on the busiest holiday of the year. Oh no, I want to eat delicious turkey and dressing at my mother’s house, not a turkey sandwich and fries at Chili’s in the Los Angeles Airport.

Are you a flight attendant? If so, take the following poll. If not, check out this cool website and test your knowledge of even more airline lingo.


Photos courtesy of: (flight attendant legs) Laszlo-photo , (airplane interior) Carrib, (turkey) Xbermathew

Muji Chronotebook: Right for the Road?

I’ve never been one to plan my trips down to the minute. I’d rather have a list of sites and activities that I want to check out and then figure out the timing of it all once I hit the ground. Schedules and agendas remind me too much of the office. Trips are supposed to help me break out of my cubicle and live my life untethered. But the Muji Chronotebook may be the day planner that changes my mind about how I organize trips.

Rather than being a linear day planner like the old-school Filofax, the Chronotebook lets you plan your day around a small circular “clock” in the middle of the page. The left side is for AM and the right is PM. The circles are large enough that you can recognize what time you are assigning to an activity but small enough to have most of the page left for notes, addresses, comments and other details you want to write down as you are out and about on your travels.

What I like about the Chronotebook is that it can be both a planner and a notebook. I don’t want to carry any more than I need to when I travel, but having a notebook to jot down my thoughts or ideas is key. And with the Chronotebook being a planner first and foremost, it could help you maximize your trip without feeling like you’re being too rigid with your leisure time.

I could definitely see myself in my vrbo apartment at night, planning my next day’s activties in my Chronotebook, adding details such as what trams to take and what market my favorite guidebook recommends and then going to sleep content in the knowledge that the following day in some exotic city is going to be totally rad.*

* It’s my daydream so I get to say “rad.”

[Via psfk]