Tuesday, September 25, 2012

In Search Of: (International) Travel Advice

I can fly us, ma!
We're gonna do it. My husband and I have decided to keep our annual tradition of taking a trip to somewhere we've never been... and this time Baba G will be along for the ride. We figured that if we don't start traveling with him now, the thought of acquainting him with O'Hare International Airport will grow to be too overwhelming and intimidating with each passing month. So, as Nike put best, we have to Just Do It.

Those of you who've read about my past vacations on "According to e" know that my husband and I are no strangers to international travel. We are quite aware how much it could suck to have a ten-month-old on an airplane—for him, us, and everyone seated around us. (Yes, I intend to bring ear plugs and other apologetic goodies for those nearby. And yes, we're going to do everything possible to travel on off-days/times.) So today I'm not necessarily looking for travel advice in the most literal sense, but rather "vacationing with an infant" advice.

We're planning to stick to the Caribbean for BG's first trip and will either book a direct flight (less than 5 hours) or two shorter flights (3 hours each or less). I'm in the process of getting him an expedited passport (why do I sense an upcoming post about the ridiculousness of baby passport photos?) and checking with his pediatrician regarding any special things we'll need to keep in mind outside of the States. So what I wanted to ask you all is for other advice you wish someone had told you before you traveled with your little one for the first time.

Here's a random stream-of-consciousness list of questions:

- Own seat on plane or not? For those who have traveled with kids under 2 for flight lengths similar to the ones we'll be taking, did you buy an extra seat or take advantage of the "on-a-parent's-lap" allowance? One of the direct flights I just looked into was nearly $1,500 per person, so that might make our decision for us, but I'm still curious as to what others have chosen to do (and how it went, of course!).

I want to go to there.
- Car seat? We're hoping we don't have to bring BG's car seat. It is just so damn heavy and he ONLY sits in it in our car at this point. Outside of the US, how can we plan to have a safe car seat for him during the ride from the airport to wherever we're staying? Is this something I'm kidding myself to think a transportation company might be able to accommodate in the Caribbean? Have any of you just sucked it up and hauled a huge, heavy-ass car seat around?

- Sleeping options? Has anyone trusted a hotel or resort-supplied crib? Do we need to lug a Pack 'n Play? What about a travel bed or just having him sleep with us? To be honest, I feel like BG wouldn't put up with being in a confined space. Some of the travel baby beds seem too small. What about the tub? (I kid. OR DO I?)

- Must-haves/dos? Any other random advice anyone has before we embark upon this great adventure? Or better yet, before we BOOK and PAY for this adventure in the coming weeks? Anything we need to make sure the place we stay has? Any special requests we should make upfront? Anything we need to prepare ourselves for aside from BG being whacked out from a long day of travel?

Thanks in advance for any tips! They'll come back to you in good travel karma, I promise.

- e

12 comments:

  1. I'd say not to take a car seat. Just make sure you ask for one when you reserve your car. Any extra equipment is a hassle and the small surcharge you might pay is worth the lower harassment level.

    For the flights ask to have those seats at the front of the row that airlines reserve for parents with babies. Or try to get two seats in a row of three as they usually will not sit someone next to a person with a baby unless the flight is really full.

    For the bed, most hotels have decent cribs but again make sure to reserve one when you reserve your rooms. Actually probably someone somewhere on the Internet has a site rating hotels according to the baby/kid welcome level so you might check that out.

    And just enjoy yourselves as the more stressed you are, the more stress Baba G will be ;-)

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  2. 1) If you can, get a seat for the child. More comfortable for everyone (and you often don't qualify for baggage allowance on a lap-baby). But, if prices are horrible, you can survive it.

    2) Depends on how safety stressed you are. If you really want to have a carseat with you, bring it. You can either strap the baby car seat in the seat you purchase for the baby (That way it travels with you). If you can't fit it into the plane seat (which happens, depending on the plane) or do the lap baby thing, they will gate check or check it for you. One note - if you don't strap him in for the plane ride, the car seat usually doesn't count as baggage, if you check it, and that saves hauling it through the airport. We usually tried to strap in for the plane ride, which made the airport a drag but made the plane ride easier.

    Depending on how 3rd world your destination is, you maynot be able to find one when you arrive, - In smaller places (Nevis, Gaudaloupe, etc.) carseats are hard to find. If you are OK not having a carseat at your destination, bring a bjorn for the plane, airport, and taxi. Not as safe as a seat, but better than nothing. And hey, we all survived without carseats, right?

    3) We brought a pack n play sometimes, or called ahead about 'reserving' one -- again, depending on the type of place you are going, it could be just fine. If you are at the 4 Seasons, they'll have one. If you are at a condo/smaller BnB type place, don't count on it. If you can co-sleep, that can be OK, but not much fun for you. Many Caribbean places have huge closets so we used that as our 2nd bedroom for our kid, with the pack n play, and that we great for everyone. Sleep for him, sleep for us.

    4) Bring extra clothes for the plane - maybe even 2 changes. I once needed THREE (that trip was a disaster of epic proportion). Also extra diapers. And pack diapers for the trip, you can always use that space for the fun clothes your buy on the way back. And NOT finding diapers is a huge drag.

    5) when older, dum-dum lollypops are necessary travel accessory. but until then, just be very sweet to everyone around you, don't be afraid to buy people a drink, and enjoy... you are right to travel early, he'll probably be great.

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  3. "...the more stressed Baba G will be"


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  4. I would say don't buy him a seat. My friend and I travelled from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles a couple of years ago with her two-month-old. At that age, the baby slept most of the flight. On the way home, the flight wasn't full, so the flight attendants let us put the car seat on the plane, and it worked out really nicely. If you're planning on flying at off-peak times, maybe you will luck out and get a seat for him without having to pay for one.

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  5. Hi, E
    Don't sweat it too much; you love travelling, and he will too! We took Mariana on a nine hour flight at three months and never looked back :-) We flew NY to LA / NY-Playa del Carmen, around the same age (nine/ten months).

    - no seat needed under 2; make use of the cheaper fares while you can :-P
    - car seats and baby beds: call ahead; bring only if not available
    - baby food - I did bring a few jars, to last until we navigated the restaurants/local stores and what she could/would eat
    - a few new toys for the plane + he needs to chew something during take off

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  6. We have flown a lot with our daughter, mostly relatively short trips to Florida (3hrs) but we have done Detroit to San Fran twice and San Fran to Honolulu. On every trip we took before she was 2 (16 flights) we did not buy her a seat. All were fine. I think at his age it would actually be easier to have him on your lap. When you check in you can ask if there are any rows with an empty seat and the attendants are usually pretty accommodating when they can be. The plane knocked our daughter out everytime, I hope you are so lucky :) then he can just lay on your lap or if you are lucky, the extra seat and sleep through the flight.

    I never trusted rental car car seats so unless we knew we would have a reliable car seat at our destination, we hauled ours along. We have done it 2 ways. When she was a lap baby, we used a carrying case for the car seat that had a backpack feature so it could be worn by one of us through the airport. There are wheeled options as well but we figured we didn't need another thing to pull or push. After we bought her a seat we used a caddy like thing that hooks right onto the back of the seat and turns it into a stroller to push through the airport with the kid in it. We then used her car seat on the plane and the little cart attachment went in the overhead bin. Both ways were fine, you feel silly with the big backpack on but we passed others with the same and had other parents ask us where we got it. Plus with the backpack you can stuff your winter coat in there with it and gate check the whole thing so yo don't have to worry about it.

    We have borrowed pack & plays at our destination several times, she always ended up in our bed. We did use the hotel crib in Hawaii and it was decent and a good size and she actually slept in it. I would just use what the hotel has, at the least he can sleep with you.

    Just make sure you have a paci or drink to help his ears regulate on the ascent and decline. If you are going to a much different time zone (I don't think anywhere in the Caribbean is that different) you can start adjusting his sleep schedule a few weeks ahead. Either way, allow the first day for crankiness and adjusting but I'm sure he will do great.

    Most airlines don't count a diaper bag against your carry on allowance and most allow you to check or gate check car seats and strollers at no charge.

    My biggest life saver in traveling has been our baby carrier. Through the airport, shuttles, at the destination we put her in the ergo baby and it was no big deal. We never even used the stroller we dragged all the way to Hawaii because the carrier was easier. If you do want to take a stroller I say get a cheaper umbrella stroller just for traveling, that way if something happens to it you wont feel bad.

    Good luck, I think that kids go along with the attitude of their parents for the most part so since you are so experienced just keep a laid back attitude and everything will be smooth.

    Now traveling with 2 on the other hand, that is kind of terrifying to me :) but we will figure it out!

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  7. I've traveled pretty extensively with both kids, almost always on my own. As you well know, getting to and from Hawaii is no easy feat!

    (1) avoid paying for the extra seat as long as possible. I had them in my lap until they just got too darn big. I think I gave up at 15 months. Until then, they want to sit in your lap any way, and if there's 2 of you, it's a no-brainer. Traveling with 2 adults also means you get to avoid the juggling/balancing baby routine in the bathroom/closet. Good times...
    (2) yes on the car seat. it's big and bulky, but have you ever seen the ones they give you with your rental car? DISGUSTING! I saw them once piled outside of the rental place and vowed I would never, ever entertain this option. It's one thing for your own kid's bodily fluids to be all over the seat, but someone else's, no thank you! Airlines do not charge baggage fees for car seats or strollers, so get a porter to check you in at the curb and it's smooth sailing!
    (3) I've always taken my chances with what the hotel provides. However I take off all of the bedding (and wipe down with baby wipes) and have brought my own sheet from their crib. Not only for cleanliness-reasons, but also I've found that the familiar smell/texture/whatever helps them to be comfortable in the new place and they have transitioned better. Since a baby sheet isn't very big, it's worth packing. If worse comes to worse, in bed with you!
    (4) At this age, there's not a lot you can do for entertainment options, but I've always made it a rule to have as many books, toys and SNACKS as possible to avoid any possible meltdowns. Definitely extra clothes and diapers, more than you think you need just to be safe, and I always bring a giant package of wipes and a plastic grocery bag to collect said wipes, diapers, trash, a big zip lock for any potential soiled clothes. And, if there's room, an extra shirt for you in case of baby accidents. I never really adhered to this, but always thought it would be a good idea...

    Good Luck!

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  8. I haven't done this but I have friends who have. One thing to add that I don't see here is to bring extra outfits for you and Dustin as well, just in case D. has an accident that affects more than just him. Good luck!!! I am jealous.

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  9. I think you have gotten very good advice here already. I will definitely second the idea of at least an extra shirt for you and Dustin because you just never know with babies. I will also suggest bringing your own baby Tylenol or Advil as Abby almost always gets sick when we travel and we are always needing this at inconvenient times. LOTS of patience - vacationing with a baby is NOTHING like vacationing on your own. You are much more restricted by naptimes, bedtimes, entertaining said child. That said, we've had a lot of fun on the trips we've taken her on - they are just different! Have fun!!

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  10. Hey Erika

    (1) Up to 6 months I would say no extra seat. Ask for a bulkhead seat and most airlines have a baisonette that can be attached to the bulkehad. After 6 months definitely get the extra seat. It is discounted vs. adult rate. If one of you has great airline status, and the plane is reasonably empty, you can usually talk the reservation/gate agent into placing you with an empty seat inbetween two adults without having to pay a dime for it. I have been able to score this several times -- even better if you can get bumped up to business class.

    (2) Definitely bring your own car seat... if you are packing a bunch of extra stuff anyway, it won't make a difference. You can attach it to a rollerboard so it is easy to lug around. Car seats internationally are very hit and miss, from a availability, safety, and hygiene standpoint.

    (3) Sleeping: I would definitely bring your pack and play, unless you are staying at a Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, Westin...and they confirm they have a usable crib in advance. Again, if you are going to be lugging 5 suitcases anyway, you can stow a P+P in one of the larger ones and the incremental hassle is minimal.

    (4) Bring an umbrella stroller, don't try to lug your Bugaboo!!

    (5) Main additional advice is to mind the time zones. After a day or two, our little guy found his own sleep schedule. If you are lucky it is sleep late and wake up late, and you can just work your dinners around this. Forget about regular naps!

    Hope this helps!
    Alex


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  11. Just a thought, if you were really willing to pay extra for a seat on the plane, use that money instead for the hotel to ensure you get one that is baby-friendly and has decent cribs/playpens.

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