October 17, 2011

Traveling as a Trio

Not too long ago, I would see babies in the airport and silently pray that they weren't on my flight. Or at the very least not seated next to me. Over the course of many flights I had come to discover that, more often than not, babies cry on planes. Be it their ears popping, changes to a sleep schedule, the desire not to be confined, they usually cried. And generally it was a ear-piercing cry tolerable only to the youngun's parents, if even then. I would see those families in the chairs near my gate and put my head down and sigh.

Last month,we became that family. We were the ones pacing back and forth by the gate with a baby. I could almost hear the thoughts of the business travellers catching the evening flight home after a long work day on the road: "oh God there's a baby on this flight" ... "please don't let that baby be sitting near me" ... "I hope that youngster doesn't cry. Please oh please let him be a sleeper."

Interestingly enough, I found I didn't really care much what they thought. Like them, I too was hoping for a cryless flight, but I was more focused on getting our first family vacation off to a smooth and happy start. During my vacation preparation and the week-long holiday, I discovered a few things about travelling with a babe that made it much easier. I thought I'd share my top tips with you:

Pack early. The first step to getting your vacation off on the wrong foot is feeling rushed when packing. You`ll inevitably feel like you`ve forgotten something and when already dealing with baby-brain, that`s no good. I started packing for our trip about two full days before we left. When it was just me, I could pack for a trip in a couple of hours or less. I knew what I needed, where to find it, how to pack it, and life was easy peasy. With the upgrade to a travelling trio, I knew I'd need more time. A couple of days let me make sure essentials were laundered or purchased if needed and I was able to to pack around naps, feedings, changings, playing, and otherwise being mama.

packed, stacked, and ready to roll
Pack light. A lesson learned from years of business travel. Whenever I can, I cart only a carry on. I spent a month in Europe with just a medium-sized duffel bag and it wasn't a backpacking vacation. I even managed an entire week-long business trip with just a carry-on once. However, packing light with a baby is an entirely different story. Not entirely impossible, but a challenge for sure. After several road trips with the car bursting at the seams I was determined to pack lighter for our plane trip. One medium-sized suitcase and one carry-on for one week for the two of us (dad was on his own for packing). Yes HP is entitled to his own bag and his own carry on, but I figure until he's old enough to lug those around, we're going with only my baggage allotment if at all possible!

To fit it all into the limited space, first I pulled out everything I thought I'd need for me and HP and spread it around the floor. Then before I started filling the bags, I removed at a quarter of it right away. I then packed essentials first and as room in the suitcase dwindled, I weeded out about another quarter of the stuff leaving me with about half of what I started with.
spreading and sorting ...

weeded out and packed in :)
The key to making packing light for more than a couple of days on the road is assuming I could do laundry if need be. We were staying with a friend and visiting her parents place, both of which had laundry facilities available. Turned out, I didn't need to do laundry at all, even with only half the gear and some stuff even came home unworn. Even if we were hoteling it, I'd assume I could send essentials to the hotel laundry or wash in the sink if needed.  Packing light is tough, but worth it when you get to maneuvering to, from, and around airports and accommodations. You think you need everything you use at home, but the reality is you can make do quiet easily with much less. 

Bring some, buy some. When packing, it was hard to decide whether to take enough baby stuff with me for the whole trip or take just enough for a day or so, then buying the rest there. I ultimately decided to split it. I took just enough wipes, diapers and cream for the week and decided to buy formula there, taking only enough of that for the first 24 hours. My theory: formula was heavy to carry and we'd likely use the better part of a full case there, making it easier to carry home the leftovers than to bring the full case (of course, if you`re breastfeeding, this doesn`t necessarily apply). Then, I figured the half pack of diapers, the small squishy pack of wipes would be all used up and leave just enough room in the bag to carry back purchases made on the trip (yes, I planned to shop!). Even steven. It worked perfect. If I were going for more than a week, I`d probably only take enough for the first four or five days and then top up as needed - see packing light above!

Leave early. Or better yet, even earlier. As most parents have figured out by now, leaving for anywhere with a baby is best done earlier than planned. They inevitably need to be changed, fed or otherwise entertained before you can get out the door. The same holds true for travel. You are much better off at the airport waiting a few more minutes than sweating with the pedal to the metal trying to catch a flight. Especially if you can't recall whether or not you turned off the oven before you left the house and have to turn around to check. Not saying that happened to us. It may or may not have. Ok it did. But we left early enough to turn around, do a double check, and still be at the airport on time. For the record I did turn it off.

and we're still there with time to spare
Nurse/feed on plane. We ended up with a late evening flight on the way up and an {very} early morning flight on the way back, both of which worked out well for feeding and sleeping. We just stretched Hudson's feeding time to a little later in the days leading up to the flight and then fed him during take off. He ate and went right to sleep. Same on the way back, he ate and went right down for a nap. I highly recommend it as do the other passengers from our flights!

enjoying a late night bottle

followed by a snooze. Cue happy sighs of mama, daddy, and fellow passengers.
Take a backpack. Not just a diaper bag. At least if your diaper bag is the traditional messenger or purse style like mine. One jaunt about on the first day and my shoulder was just about gone carrying the diaper bag. Those bags are A-1 for popping into Starbucks for a coffee or a stroll around Toys-R-Us, not so much for day trips and afternoons on the trot. I was grateful dad's carry-on was a backpack that could serve double duty as a diaper bag on our vacay. So were my shoulders.

Rent necessary big gear. We decided to rent a pack-n-play and a swing for the week we were in Halifax. Most major cities have some sort of company that offers similar services where you can rent everything from playpens and strollers to swings and toys. It is awesome for those items that make your everyday easier but are simply to big or cumbersome to tote. If you're hoteling it and they have a crib, great. If not, find yourself a rental company - of course check out safety of gear, ask how old the equipment is, how long they've been in business, how often they replace it, etc - and be safe and happy. The playpen in the storage closet was a saving grace for us. Though that's another story for another time perhaps.

it was the perfect fit once the bike came out of storage
Assess need for stroller. After realizing that our jogging stroller didn't meet the size requires for gate-checking (the wheels were too big), we reassessed the need for a stroller. Did we check it as luggage? Did we rent one in Halifax? Borrow a smaller one? Pick up a cheap umbrella one? Go without it? We decided to go without it and use just our {awesome} cybex carrier instead. We had a direct flight between two small airports. We were also staying with a friend who had a car for major transport on the other end. We also knew most of our plans involved tight spaces that would be better served by the carrier than a stroller. In the end it worked out perfectly for us. BUT... if I were going anywhere with a stop-over flight, the stroller in the airport would be a MUST. We managed the waiting times before the flights ok without it, but anything longer than that, no way. I've also since been told by several other mamas that if we had taken our stroller-with-it's-too-big-wheels, Air Canada would have likely allowed it as gate check, so I'd probably try that too.
The carrier was perfect
especially in a crowded market!
Limit the must sees. I usually have a long list of must-sees, must-dos and must-eats whenever taking a holiday. I usually prioritize them a little, so some are more a must than others, as you can't always see everything in the time you have or things happen, like flight delays or sickness (oh Venice and Rome I'll forever remember that). With a baby on board it is even more true. There are cranky days or afternoons. There are longer than expected naps. There are great days that seem to go on forever followed by sleepless nights. The reality is, if you want to be happy, if you want your baby to be happy and you want to have a good time, really limit your must sees and have a few nice bonuses instead. Pick one thing a day that you'd like to do and see where it goes from there. A long time ago I heard someone say just assume you'll be back. It makes it much easier to enjoy what you do get to squeeze in.

One of our must sees was a visit to the "cottage" in Chester.
Thanks Karen & Blair for the hospitality, wonderful as always!
R&R baby, R&R. Plan to relax, take breaks and take your time. A baby needs good sleep. So does mama and daddy. Take time to chill out. We learned that heading out after the morning nap was good timing. As was spending some time at our friend's place in the afternoon and being settled back in for bedtime. Hudson was happier than if we pushed him to go all day and we in turn were more chill as well. We ordered in, sipped wine and just enjoyed the R&R. If you're going on a hotel holiday, plan to order room service for a late supper and take a siesta in the afternoon. Perhaps it was not the holidays of my pre-baby days, but enjoyable all the same.

A good motto for any trip... keep calm and carry on.
And of course, it always helps if mama and daddy also enjoy a small, late night bottle at the start of the trip (assuming you're not driving of course!).

Bon Voyage!

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