Sunday, August 19, 2012

Travelling with Baby: A few tips

From Europe 2012 Selects
This European Trip was the first extended trip that we had with Bowen. During the trip, we went on planes, taxis, cars, gondolas, trains (lots of trains), buses. Pretty much everything except boats, and I was tempted to take him on a canoe ride. At this point, we have enough experience traveling with Bowen that I can provide a few tips for similarly ambitious parents:
  • Leave the full size stroller behind. Use only a baby backpack, or if you can't use a backpack, get an umbrella stroller. Matt Hiller recommends the Maclaren Volo as being suitably light weight, but I haven't tried one. If necessary, just buy a cheap stroller at your destination and ditch it when you leave.
  • On planes, book ahead to get a bassinet. If you think that all you need to do is to put the baby in there and then let him sleep, you're wrong. On planes, you pretty much have to hold him, rock him, burp him, etc to get him calm. Do what it takes. We had lots of fellow travelers come up to us after the flight from CDG to SFO thanking us because while demanding, Bowen did not fuss or cry during the flight.
  • On trains in Europe with a rail pass, book first class. Cynthia asked me if I'd gone insane, knowing how cheap I am, but it's worth the nominal extra cost, since you get a lot of room, and fantastic service from the train staff. Bowen got gobs and gobs and gobs of extra chocolate from the staff. Once in the car, look for the handicap area which will take both wheelchairs and large strollers, if you ignored my advice and brought a large stroller.
  • Buses in the summer are hot and almost certainly a disaster during rush hour. It will get very warm, and the Europeans don't run air conditioning in their buses. The metro in Paris unfortunately isn't much better.
  • If you do have a large stroller, German-speaking cities have very nice U-Bahn and S-Bahn systems. Those will take strollers and generally have elevators for handicap access which you can use. Avoid cities in non-German-speaking countries if you're going to bring a large stroller.
  • The best deal is the tram. Many cities have trams which are air conditioned and those will take almost any vehicle, stroller, etc. On one particularly hot day in Vienna, we rode the tram all day with a day ticket, which cost very little and gave us the city sights in air conditioned comfort. We discovered our favorite ice cream place in Vienna as a result.
  • On Gondolas, remove your backpack carrier and carry onto the Gondola rather than just stepping onto the Gondola. I forgot to do so once and gave poor Bowen a knock on the head.
  • Be as fit as you can be. It's really nice to be able to backpack with Bowen on hikes. Not only do you get admiring looks from other families, the smile on his face during and after a hike is great. It really is worth getting fit enough to do this.
  • When renting cars, pre-book a child seat. There's no point carrying a child seat all over Europe if you're doing train transfers. It will just slow you down and add stress to your transfers. Just rent one as needed. The same goes for a portable crib. Don't bring one. Just buy one (30-60 EUR at most European chainstores) and discard when done. Most hotels will provide a portable crib if you ask.

To be honest, I didn't expect XiaoQin to be willing to travel with the baby this year, but our doctor told us that if you're going to do it, do it before the baby loses passive immunity from mom (somewhere around the 9-12 month mark is what our pediatrician told us). We did the trip, and baby was fairly happy through out, except for the baby jet lag, which was terrible to behold.
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