My Travel Hats went to Los Angeles, Chicago and Spain… with a newborn! An introduction to dragging your child around the world

First of all, much apologies for my complete and utter neglect to update this blog. It’s been a fairly exciting time. If you haven’t already met her, I’d like to introduce you to my new child:

baby

(Jon with our baby in Toledo, Spain)

Because I believe the Internet is an unharnessed and somewhat precarious state of existence, along with having watched way too many Law & Order SVU episodes about child molesters and pedophiles during maternity leave, that is about the extent of the photography you’ll get to view of my little one until she is 18 years of age.

However, it is time to return to the blogosphere so I’ll begin with an introduction to Traveling with a Newborn.

Before we took her overseas, we first flew her from Baltimore to Los Angeles at exactly six weeks for my cousin’s wedding. Kind of like a trial trip before the big one. Our doctor suggested having her vaccinated before getting on those germ-filled planes that are spread around the air vents easily, so we had her shots done (you can get them done at six weeks, although traditionally they start at two months), then hopped on a plane the next day. We spent about a week in Los Angeles, then another week in Chicago with the grandparents, and then jetted home for a few more before we embarked to Madrid.

At two months, she doesn’t do much but sleep, eat and digest everything into her Pampers. You soon realize how little a baby actually needs, despite what Buy Buy Baby and Babies ‘R’ Us might make you believe. It was relatively easy flying around with her, and no one, not even the unhappy bankrupt airlines and their unhappy employees, can resist a cute little baby. We got to cut the line everywhere, from security to the boarding gate. We took her to museums, restaurants, cafes, bars, and a bullfight, and probably permanently messed up the wheels of our second-hand Graco stroller frame from dragging it across cobblestone streets in Spain, but we all had a great time. As I write this, she is whining a little from her bouncy seat, probably wondering why she’s not rattling across some rocky street with Moorish archways and cathedral ceilings to stare at overhead.

A few things we had to learn about flying with a newborn that we didn’t know before:

1. Baby does not need an ID. But it’s probably a good idea to carry a copy of the birth certificate with you just in case.

2. Baby under two years of age is free if you sit him/ her in your lap. According to my sister, they stop sitting on your lap before then though. But if you decide to buy them a seat because you’re tired of holding a squirming toddler, they won’t sit in it, and then you’ll be out a few hundred dollars.

3. Baby gets to bring a carry-on in the form of a diaper bag, so pack that thing full.

4. You can take the stroller and carseat up to the gate, and then they gate-check it. I decided to get a cover for our carseat so it wouldn’t get dirty in the cargo, and it was a great idea since that bag came back with a whole lot of dirt marks on it that would have otherwise ended up being ingested and digested by our kid. I’m all for exposing her to dirt and building that immunity, but licking the inside of the cargo hold of an airplane is not in my plan. I ended up sewing my own from a very loud mustard-yellow curtain of my parents from the 70’s, so there’s no mistaking whose carseat that is, but you can also purchase one at Amazon. (You can buy anything at Amazon)

5. You can bring a cooler with ice pack and milk through security. They’ll run the bottles through some special little milk detector machine and not question the ice pack.

6. Doctors will suggest feeding the baby during take off and landing, to help ease ear pressure. Believe it or not, there are actually breastfeeding policies for each airline, ever since Delta threw a passenger off a flight for breastfeeding her kid. To summarize each one, prepare to have some kind of cover for the kid. Airline blankets are not the cleanest, so bring your own scarf or swaddle and tie it around your neck.   Sure, there is a whole army of breastfeeding women who want to fight for their right to breastfeed in the open, but I will save this for another blog post.

7. Baby needs to be listed on one of the boarding passes as a passenger. We learned that the hard way and had to go through many more lines to make sure she was.

8. Give yourself a LOT of time. Pad it on. There’s nothing like racing to the gate when she suddenly needs three diaper changes in a row. That being said, it’s also helpful to bring a spare outfit for the kid. And perhaps one for yourself, if baby decides to barf on your mid-flight.

9. For Spain, we realized she would need a passport, which requires a social security number and birth certificate, and it took four weeks to receive the social security number. I had to physically go to the DC Department of Health to get a copy of her birth certificate, but it was issued the same day. Not only that, both parents have to be present to get the passport. We made an appointment at the local post office and brought her social security card, copies of our drivers’ licenses (front and back), birth certificate, two 2″x2″ pictures and application. I also took her pictures, which was a task in itself, since the head is supposed to be centered and eyes open, staring straight, but she squirmed a lot and liked to rotate her head or stare anywhere except straight at the camera. We decided to expedite the passport, to make sure it would come back in time.

More updates to come on our three-week voyage across Spain!

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My Travel Hats New Year’s Resolutions

Normally I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, especially since I make other goal-oriented lists already (like the before-30 list, the before-33 list, the before-35 list, the Summer List, Autumn List and now Winter List). However, I felt there should be some for this blog which was once quite popular and then sorrowfully neglected through the year. Usually we blame the animal of the Chinese zodiac, in this case, the seemingly innocent and furry little rabbit, but don’t be fooled by those creatures’ ability to wreak havoc on your year.

Anyway, here are some resolutions brought to you by your editor and creator of your favorite travel blog:

1.  2012 will be the start to a soon-to-be expanded My Travel Hats! Editorial plan still in the works.

2. I will be documenting more places to travel. So far I’ve been sent requests for Istanbul, Budapest, Delhi, Boston and southern California.

3. I will find myself in a foreign country sometime this year. I don’t know when.

4. I will report back what it’s like to drag a small infant around through airports and all the unnecessary necessities to pack along.

Any other requests, please let me know! Happy new year everyone!

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Kids: Traveling while pregnant

The only time anybody welcomes a small child on a flight is if it’s still in utero, and for some reason, people just love pregnant women. I recently flew to Chicago for the weekend with my kid, even if it’s still in a fetus stage and doesn’t count as an extra passenger. You get smiles out of the airline agents, which is rare these days, and suddenly everyone is dropping their luggage to help you with yours. People let you ahead of the lavatory line, and maybe even the flight attendant offers you an extra snack, if they have such a thing (snacks at all).

Still, I had to lug my luggage around the airport by myself for a while, since I was traveling alone. Fortunately I only have about three pieces of maternity clothing that fits at all, so that’s all I packed into a roomy laptop briefcase, along with several snacks. A month ago  Jon and I flew down to the island of Anguilla, and even though he was there to drag our suitcase around and help me out, we still managed to get a bit of star treatment.

It’s amazing how a protruding belly can suddenly get in the way of a lot of ordinary habits. For example:

  • You can’t lift your own luggage to put in the overhead anymore
  • You can barely bend over to access the bag under your seat
  • Airline seats are designed to make you hunched over, which is even worse when all your want to do is bend in the opposite direction (and there are no pillows or blankets to be found anymore)
  • You and the tray-table compete for space, especially when the guy in front reclines his seat. Makes typing on a laptop difficult
  • If you don’t have an aisle seat, your neighbors start to hate you for needing to pee every 20 minutes.

Some benefits, however:

  • I ended up on a “priority lane” at the TSA security point and skipped ahead of everyone, and nobody questioned me
  • Nobody saw me naked on those new X-ray machines since I opted for a pat-down instead
  • The pregnant belly distracts people enough so they don’t notice you are still wearing a cardigan or have three carry-on items as you enter security.
  • People feel sorry for the solo pregnant traveler.

Some tips for pregnant travelers:

  • Pack light. Seriously. You can’t expect someone else to do all your hauling, even your spouse.
  • You already look disproportional and weird, so don’t worry what your shoes look like. Sneakers go a long way. Wear them in the airport.
  • You already look disproportional and weird, so don’t worry what your clothes look like. Pack light. Pack few. You probably don’t own much that fits anyway. Less is easier to haul around.
  • Bring snacks. Lots of them. Granola bars, saltines, pretzels, fruit, raisins. And bring enough for your husband who will have “sympathy hunger”.
  • If you’re going to a beach, just wear a bikini and ignore the comments more conservative people make about pregnant bellies and bikinis. There were plenty of potbellied men on the beach who looked like they could go into labor any minute, and I think I looked better than they did. Same applies to overweight women.
  • Bring Tylenol (for headaches), ginger candy and/or tiger balm (for nausea), hand sanitizer and drink lots of water.
  • Give yourself plenty of time before your flight. You really don’t want to be racing through the airport, even if you’re wearing the sneakers I recommended.
  • Have fun. This is going to be nothing compared to the next time you travel, which is with a kid and all the accoutrements kids come with.

 

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On My Itinerary: Parenthood!

I’m back online! I’ve had a lot to deal with in recent months but finally I’ve managed to find my way back to wearing all my different hats, including a soon-to-be hat of a future PARENT. Yes, we’ll soon be toting a little one along on all our journeys and reporting back about how to travel with a baby, then toddler, then child, without being subjected to flying only to kid destinations (I’m putting off Disney World as long as possible). My intention is to start showing my kid the world as soon as possible, starting with a map, followed by interesting and fascinating foods, sites, history, and ways of living beyond anything its imagination is capable of until he/ she see it in person.

In any case, our last journey to somewhere exotic will be the island of Anguilla, which I’ve written about before, where we’ll be exercising our new snorkels I got everyone for Christmas last year, and getting pampered at the CuisinArt Resort (but staying at my favorite Shoal Bay Villas). Even with maternity clothes, my luggage is being reduced to a backpack and camera, since all you need are flip-flops and swimsuits anyway.

In the meantime, we’re preparing for all sorts of adventures and researching how to pack a baby to travel the world. Stay tuned for our list of tried-and-true world-travelin’ baby gear!

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On My Itinerary: Oh, CANADA!

Jon has never been to Canada, other than the time he rowed over the border in a canoe during summer camp (I guess the borders of Wisconsin aren’t well-protected). So to mark off another country on his list, we’re driving up from Maryland through Amish country (PA) and the heart of New York towards Niagara Falls, then onto Toronto for a quick three-day roadtrip.

photo by Saffron Blaze

Jon has never been to Niagara Falls either, whereas I apparently visit it at least once a decade. This will mark my third time to the falls, and each time the area becomes more and more middle-America (or, middle-Canada). Today it is a destination spot for roadtrippers, luring businesses to its convention center and with the addition of many Falls-front hotel chains, like Marriott, Hilton, Embassy Suites, etc. etc. Many of these have hotel rooms with full views of the falls, which is kind of cool, so we booked one. There’s even a casino scene,  and you know you’ve reached the ultimate roadtrip destination when there’s a Great Wolf Lodge (an indoor waterpark hotel resort, yes). And all your favorite destination eateries: Rainforest Cafe, Hard Rock Cafe, Tony Romas, Outback Steakhouse, etc.

From there we will drive through the Niagara-on-the-Lake region, known for its wine and then into Toronto, which will be my second time there, which is actually a really cool city if it wasn’t in the middle of Canada. Jon is excited for the Hockey Hall of Fame and I for the walking tours where I can put my new camera to work.

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Cool Tools: AirBNB

(example of a condo you can rent in Hawaii)

My friend Grace, who lives in a one-bedroom in NYC’s Chinatown, was suddenly deluged with family coming in to visit: her mother and father, her sister, her sister’s husband, her sister’s baby; her brother, his wife and toddler. There was no way they were all going to squash into her apartment, especially not with two kids.

She considered Craigslist, a venue she went by before; the problem with Craigslist is it can also result in scams: like the person who subletted someone’s apartment, then posed as a landlord and “rented” the apartment out to dozens of people and taking their deposits (which happened to my friend’s apartment she subletted for a month in Brooklyn). Hotels in Manhattan are pricy, especially by the week.

My super boss’s son, a clueless 18-year-old, and his 12 friends thought they were renting a house in Ocean City, Md. through a rental website and wired money to a man whose English was terrible, with whom they never spoke to, and who disappeared with the money and never turned over a house key.

Enter airbnb. I’m not sure what the Air part means, but it’s a great site that allows you to browse through people’s apartments, homes, cottages and rooms they are renting. Past visitors can post reviews on the site.

It’s a great alternative to a hotel, and it’s safer than relying on Craigslist or any other rental listing site online. I’m a big fan of staying in places with kitchens that cost under $100 a night.

You browse through the places based on location, price, number of people, private house or private room in a house, amenities and so forth. Once you’ve decided on a place, you are put in touch with the owner; the two of you arrange schedules and meeting points, and then you put down a deposit and final amount. Here’s the scam protectant: the owner doesn’t get the money until you’ve checked into the place.

So if some dumb person tries to list a fake place, he or she won’t get the money. Any of it.

Grace was even able to talk to someone about the fact that her apartment didn’t come with electricity and it was 105 degrees in New York City that week. They didn’t have to pay until the electricity was turned on.

Of course, having discovered this little web gem, I’ve already gone hunting for pads around the world. Paris! Berlin! Rio! But we’ll test out airbnb on our hopefully upcoming trip to Kauai over Thanksgiving, so we’ll let you know our experience!

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Now Boarding: United changes its frequent flier program

Photo by Todd MacDonald

You used to be able to take 35,000 frequent flier miles and travel to Hawaii, which was the best use of miles since Hawaii is so far and so expensive.

That was the game plan for me and Jon to do over this Thanksgiving, now that we’ve reached the 35,000 mile mark on United.

However, United quietly – very very quietly – released new changes to its frequent flier program that made it impossible for me to get to Hawaii for 35,000 miles. In fact, it will be 40,000 miles… ONE WAY.

?!?

The “saver” version is 20,000 miles one-way, so you could theoretically get a round-trip for 40,000 to Hawaii, but nobody is ever that lucky. In fact, I was just looking online around Thanksgiving, which is five months away, and no such ticket exists. Perhaps if I looked for next April I’ll be lucky.

I checked other airlines to see if anyone else has jumped on the baggage cart, but it seems only United has done this. However, others, like American, are allowing you to book one-way tickets using miles, for 12,500, a nice change from when you had to book a round-trip only for 25,000.

The key? Don’t rely on your miles to get you somewhere but use them for a flexible trip way off in the distant future. I don’t doubt that other airlines will start to add more restrictions to their awards programs as well. They are still a great way to fund a trip that can otherwise cost a couple thousand dollars, so use them wisely.

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