travel with baby, part two: baby gear
Whenever we wax nostalgic about our childless days, inevitably the first thing that comes to mind is how much easier it was to pack for our trips. Long gone are the days when we could fit our entire lives into a hiking bag or rolling carry-on. Not only does Munchkin have significantly more gear than the two of us combined, but it’s also sometimes difficult to draw the line between the things we absolutely need to bring and the ones that we could do without even if having them would be nice.
We pack differently depending on our mode of transportation and what is available at our destination. For car trips, we purposefully over-pack because throwing a few extra items in the trunk makes no difference in terms of logistics but might make all the difference in the world for Munchkin. For example, we debated whether it was excessive to bring his monkey chair to Romania on our first road trip, and were glad that we decided to take it because at 3 months it was the only way to keep him occupied for more than a couple of minutes at a time.
Similarly, we’ve come to expect certain items we take for granted in the United States to be unavailable at other destinations. Ever since we introduced solids, it became imperative to have a high chair during mealtimes. In the United States this is rarely an issue, as most restaurants have high chairs. We’ve found several European countries to be somewhat less baby-friendly, so we now travel with a fabric chair tie or clip-on high chair, or both. Otherwise, as we learned in Istanbul, eating out becomes nearly impossible.
If traveling to visit relatives often – especially if the trip involves air travel – it makes sense to have an extra car seat, high chair, pack-and-play, or other essential gear at one’s destination. It doesn’t have to be expensive or high-end; it just needs to get the job done during a short visit. For us, we kept an extra bath tub with sling at S’s parents’ house when Munchkin was a baby. Similarly, thanks to dozens of baby-centric websites, we can order diapers, wipes, formula, food pouches, and other perishables to our parents’ addresses before we arrive. This obviates the need to stop at the store upon arrival or pack supplies in checked baggage.
Not all parents will agree, but there are two baby items that we consider essential for any trip: car seat and travel crib. Only once — when we used an agency to book our tour in Croatia — did a local driver have a car seat for Munchkin. Far more often, taxis abroad do not even have working seat belts for us to use. Similarly, we have stayed in very few hotels or apartments that offered to loan us a crib. Sometimes what they mean by a baby bed is unclear; one hotel suggested we put Munchkin, then 8 months old, in a regular twin bed. Other times, the hotels’ baby beds are clearly made for older children, and quite often there is simply nothing useful on offer. Either way, we prefer to travel with our own compact travel crib.
Unfortunately we do not have a 220v baby monitor. On one car trip, we brought our hefty voltage converter, but mostly we’ve had to do without even though we often lament not having one. There are ways to MacGyver a baby monitor using an ipad, iphone, and a monitoring app but we have yet to try it even though it would theoretically give us greater freedom of movement in the evenings when baby is asleep. We do bring our sound machine – a lightweight, priceless device that fits in our carry-ons and runs on batteries.
Many parents we know see a decisive advantage to travelling without a stroller because they can be unwieldy. We own a CityMini, which is light, can be quickly folded and unfolded with one hand, and just might be the best baby item we own. It’s nice to be able to roll Munchkin through the airport and have extra space to hold our smaller bags or jackets. It’s nicer still to have a stroller when we arrive at our destination because it enables us to visit museums or go on walking tours during Munchkin’s nap times.
Even so, we always pack a baby carrier in addition to the stroller. Babies are fickle and it’s not always a magic bullet, but our carrier has come in handy on several occasions. First, if baby is asleep, passing through airport security with the baby strapped to one’s chest might make the difference between a happy, well-rested child and an irritable infant whose sleep has been cut short. TSA and other airport security can be fickle too, unfortunately, and some security personnel will insist on screening the carrier through the x-ray machine even when baby is fast asleep inside it. We suspect that those security agents do not have kids of their own. Carriers are indispensable for hiking trips, and S has also turned to the carrier as a measure of last resort if Munchkin cannot fall asleep during the flight, walking up and down the aisle with him to help him rest.
This may sound like a lot of stuff, but we can usually fit it all into two large duffel bags with plenty of room left over for clothes, a few toys and other knickknacks, and all of our non-baby things. Our travel crib fits inside the duffel, but if it did not we could check it separately, as airlines (in the United States at least) allow baby items to be checked without counting against the baggage allowance. What’s more, strollers and car seats can be checked at the gate. Considering all the ways that air travel has become more inconvenient over the years, it’s nice to know that airlines still make small allowances to make life a little easier for passengers with children.