Apr 23, 2013

I bet you didn't think there was a diaper in my designer handbag

Travel Advice from a Stylish Mommy who's been around the Globe with a Little One in Tow

The first time I took a trip with my son Liam he was just a little over a year old. I was scheduled to be in New York for a few days so that I could attend a fashion conference and there was no way I was leaving him back in Seattle. (I would miss him too much!) I have a blurry photo that my husband took of Liam and I in Times Square at night and it's a picture I will cherish forever because that trip marked the start of our family travel adventures. My husband and I traveled a lot before we had kids but after our son was born we were both too exhausted to even think about the prospect of globetrotting with a tiny one in tow, but several months after the New York trip we ventured off to London and then spent a few days in Paris. We've been going non-stop ever since and loving every minute of it. Traveling with little ones is definitely an adventure, but trust me, it gets a lot easier and every kid benefits from having the opportunity to see the world. 

Fast to forward three years later and we've now traveled as a family all over the U.S. in addition to taking multiple overseas trips. Each time we traveled I would bring a notebook and jot down travel tips for my mommy friends and blog readers back at home. The notebook eventually evolved into a never-ending list on my iPhone and today, those tips make up the premise for this post. Every tip you'll find below is based on real life experience from a stylish mommy who has "been there"...literally.

Tip #1 - Buy your child a seat
The first thing I recommend to any parent traveling with a little one (i.e. a child under three) is to spend the extra money and buy your child a seat even if the airline doesn't require it. I know, it sounds a little counter intuitive, why spend the cash if you don't need to? But trust me, it's worth it. Having the extra space on the plane to get comfortable is the key to having a stress-free flight, especially if you're traveling long distances. My son loved spreading out his toys on the seat and I loved not having to constantly worry about elbowing the person next to me. 

Tip #2 - Fly direct if you can
Sometimes even a small layover can add on numerous hours to your total travel time so in order to avoid meltdowns we find it's helpful to book direct whenever possible. Traveling from Seattle to London on a direct flight is around 9 hours, but with layovers you're looking at almost 15 hours+ of total travel time. For a small child (and even some grown-ups) that's small eternity, so if the airline offers a direct flight and you are traveling with kids, my advice is to take it. You can thank me later.

Tip #3 - Pack Light for your Flight 
It's almost second nature for some parents to pack everything but the kitchen sink in their diaper bags, but somehow I missed that bandwagon (including the diaper bag) and always strive to pack lightly when I travel, kid in tow, or not. My carry-on bag always includes kid-friendly snacks and toys, plus emergency items like children's Tylenol and band-aids. Essentials for my travel bag also include a phone charger, sugar-free lollipops (in case a meltdown does occur), Aromatherapy lotion in Peppermint or Lavendar, diapers + wipes, plus at least 1 disposable sippy cup so that I can kid-proof any in-flight beverage. Remember, the more you pack in your carry-on the more you have to lug around (in addition to carrying your kid), so whenever possible, pack lightly. If you forget something and can't live without it, chances are you can buy it at the airport or upon arrival at your destination. This also goes for magazines and books! Whenever possible, I download anything I want to read on my iPad in advance.

Tip #4 - Buy Diapers on Arrival
I'll admit, I once managed to disperse an entire package of diapers into my suitcase before leaving on an overseas trip because I was a newbie when it came to traveling with a baby and I was worried about finding them on arrival. Since then, I've realized that taking up valuable suitcase space with diapers is a waste and as long as you have enough diapers to get you to your destination and a few extras "just in case" it's easier and sometimes cheaper to buy diapers at your destination rather than sacrificing suitcase space. With the exception of Hawaii, we generally travel to cosmopolitan areas where drug stores are readily accessible and stock all the diapers we could ever need, which means I have more room in my suitcase for shopping.

Also, another quick note on packing- don't bring an extra suitcase for your kid (no matter how cute the suitcase is). Try and pack as much of their clothing into your suitcase as possible so that you aren't stuck at the airport with one of those trolly carts because you have too much luggage. My rule is, if we can't carry it between the three of us (my husband, my son and myself) we don't bring it. This is especially important if you have to carry around additional items like a car seat or stroller. Speaking of car seats, we have found that it's far easier to rent a car seat from the car rental company if you are planning on driving than it is to carry one around with you. We have always had great luck with car seat rentals (clean, functioning properly, etc.) when we've needed them and with our AAA membership the car seat rental is often free.

Tip #5 - Bring picnic supplies 
In Europe it's common to eat meals outside in the park by having an impromptu picnic, but the picnic supplies I recommend are actually for your hotel room. I like to pack plastic forks and spoons so that we can have yogurt  in the morning and things like pre-packaged salads for dinner or a snack. Be sure your hotel has a mini-fridge so that you can shop during the day and store your food. You can also pack an empty water bottle in your suitcase for use on arrival. Most hotels have lemon or cucumber-infused water in the lobby for guests, making it easy to fill up a cup and then transfer it into your water bottle when you get back to your room.

Tip #6 - Take the umbrella stroller with you 
Our umbrella stroller has saved us too many times to count. My son naps in it when we're on vacation and he's too tired to keep walking and we also like it for keeping him contained when we are en-route somewhere and don't want him to get lost in the shuffle.

Find an umbrella stroller that is: 1) easy to fold up, 2) has a strap attached so that you can sling it over your shoulder and 3) has storage space so that you can stash diapers and snacks for your little one/s. When we fly we usually take the umbrella stroller straight to the gate and then have the flight attendants gate check it so that we can strap our son in and make our way to baggage claim as quickly and efficiently as possible upon arrival.

Tip #7 - Dress the Part
I like to dress up when I go out of town, but I also like to be practical. This usually means finding the right wardrobe balance between casual and comfortable. When it comes to shoes, I live in sandals when visiting places like  Florida and Hawaii, but in Europe I prefer flats that are good for walking around and chasing my son. Last summer my shoe of choice was a great pair of beige patent leather ballerina flats by Steve Madden. Since they were a neutral color they went with everything which meant I didn't have to pack numerous pairs of shoes to "match" my outfits. I also recommend packing clothing that can be layered depending on the season/occasion. Style Tip: A cashmere wrap can warm your shoulders on a cold night, serve as a scarf during the day and work as a sarong if you're headed to the beach. Pack articles of clothing that can multi-task in order to save space. And another tip that is absolutely essential for traveling with kids? Pack a cross body bag so that you can keep your hands free!

Tip #8 - Pack toys and books from home
Kids get homesick too, so we have found that it's helpful to pack at least one bed time story and a few toys from home that won't take up too much space in our suitcase. My son has a special book that we read to him every night before bed, so bringing that story along to read before "lights out" is a great way to help our son fall asleep  when he's in an unfamiliar place.

Tip #9 - Take advantage of Frequent Flyer programs
If you travel with kids in tow, be sure to sign them up for their own frequent flyer accounts so that they can accumulate points toward a free trip or discounted ticket. We took several trips with my son before realizing that as a paid customer he was also eligible to earn travel miles. Don't forget to sign your kids up before your next travel adventure.

Tip #10- Keep Calm and Carry On 
This is the most important travel tip of all. Travel is an adventure and no matter how much time you spend planning everything out, at some point you have to embrace the fact that not everything goes accordingly to plan. Trust me, I'm a total "Type A" personality and this one was hard for me, but once I learned to roll with it, traveling got so much easier. Little ones pick up on your stress and will react to situations based on how you handle them, so remember to keep calm and carry on and your kids will too!


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