7 Things I learned from taking a two-year old to Machu Picchu

I recently took my 2.5 year old to Machu Picchu. You might be thinking: Why would I do that? What was I thinking? (related: I now have very strong opinions about where to go, what to expect, and how to time it right when traveling internationally with a small child)

Traveling with a toddler to Machu PicchuTo answer your questions:

Why I did it: It was a family trip and my mother said she wanted to see Machu Picchu before she “got too old to enjoy it.”

What I was thinking: I was thinking that I wanted to go and besides my son has already been a lot of places with us and it worked out pretty well most of those times.

Along the way, I learned some things about me, about my son, and of course, about Machu Picchu. I probably wouldn’t have noticed or discovered all of these things without my son being there. Here they are in no particular order:

  1. You are not allowed to use a toddler backpack in Machu Picchu. Even if you have lugged a toddler backpack around multiple Latin American countries for 3 weeks for the sole purpose of using a toddler backpack in Machu Picchu. It is simply not allowed. I can’t tell you why exactly because I don’t know. Front packs are allowed but I didn’t have one of those!Traveling with a toddler to Machu Picchu
  2. If your 2 year old loves trains, a trip to Machu Picchu will provide about 4-5 hours of train-related entertainment.
  3. There are no bathrooms inside Machu Picchu, but it’s OK to change a diaper as long as you bring the dirty one out with you.Traveling with a toddler to Machu Picchu

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The 6 Stages of Baby & Toddler Travel: What to expect, where to go, and how to time it right

My son is now 2 1/2 and has thus far been to 12 countries on 4 continents. We traveled a lot before he was born and simply refused to slow down when he joined our family. We have had a lot of adventures and learned a ton about traveling with a baby and now with a toddler! Along the way, I have been surprised more than once, in good ways and bad. Here is my best insight and advice about the six stages of baby and toddler travel, what you can expect from each time period, where you might want to go at each stage, and how you can time it right.
The 6 Stages of Baby and Toddler Travel - What to Expect, Where to Go, and How to Time It Right: Hawaii

STAGE 1: 0-6 months

OK, so no one is going to hop on a plane with a one week old, but once a baby is about 3-4 months old, traveling with them can be surprisingly fun and easy. The kid is small, light, and sustained either by food you carry in your very own boobs or by small amounts of powder you can mix with water. The diapers and clothes are tiny so they don’t take up a lot of suitcase room. And the child is eminently portable in any number of fabric-based contraptions (sling, Moby, bjorn, Ergo, and so forth) and light enough to take on reasonably challenging hikes or city walks. With some babies, you can put them to sleep in a sling or carseat and head out to a nice restaurant. This will not be the case for very long! The big negative here is that your baby–and ergo, you–are probably not on a great sleep schedule yet. On the other hand, it can be nicer to nap together in a poolside lounge chair than on your own couch. Just stay away from places that are too hot, because there’s nothing grosser than babywearing and breastfeeding when it’s 110 degrees and 98% humidity (I’m looking at you, Cartagena.)

Ideal for Stage 1: poolside vacations, hiking-focused trips, places with good restaurants
The 6 Stages of Baby and Toddler Travel - What to Expect, Where to Go, and How to Time It Right: Hawaii

Things to avoid: major time changes, places with mosquitoes, and temperature extremes

We went to: Hawaii, New York, Colombia, and British Columbia. Hawaii and British Columbia were the clear winners because we were able to eat some good food, enjoy mild weather, and take some nice walks and hikes. New York and Cartagena were exciting but way too hot in the summer, and Bogota was too cold.

The 6 Stages of Baby and Toddler Travel - What to Expect, Where to Go, and How to Time It Right: Colombia

STAGE 2: 6-12 months

For me, this was the golden time for travel with a small child. My kid was fun, cute, and interactive but still highly portable and thus far lacking in strong opinions. By this stage our family had some semblance of a sleep routine. And although he had started eating solid foods, the amounts are so small I could easily stash 2 weeks worth in the outside pockets of my suitcase. The clothes and diapers are still on the small side. And the key thing here is that he still couldn’t WALK. The walking is when it starts to get rough. I recommend taking a big adventurous trip during this stage.

Ideal for Stage 2: anything adventurous – this is your chance to slip one more big crazy trip in!
The 6 Stages of Baby and Toddler Travel - What to Expect, Where to Go, and How to Time It Right: Bhutan

Things to avoid: places that require major vaccinations or malaria pills and very windy beach towns

We went to: New York (again), Thailand, Bhutan, Austin, and Palm Springs. Bhutan was a wonderful trip and made even more fun by bringing a baby because everyone there loved the baby. We mostly took long hikes with baby strapped in a Bjorn. Thailand was incredibly welcoming and friendly but Bangkok was a little overwhelming with a little one (mostly because it was hot, loud, and everyone kept wanting to touch him.) But overall I found everywhere to be pretty easy at this stage.

The 6 Stages of Baby and Toddler Travel - What to Expect, Where to Go, and How to Time It Right: Bhutan with baby

STAGE 3: 12-18 months

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Losing my daughter is the worst thing that ever happened to me – but it made me a better person

We are honored that our friend and frequent contributor Karen shared her story with us today ~ Whitney and Heather

One mom's story of infant loss and maternal grief

6 months ago, I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my second child and having a routine checkup in what had been a mostly normal pregnancy. That day, the doctors found a problem with my baby’s fluid levels and wanted keep an eye on things to make sure everything progressed well. The following week I was checked in to the hospital so I could be monitored around the clock. The problem worsened, but the doctors were relatively confident that despite the fluid, an early delivery and some serious time in the NICU would give the medical team the chance to fix what was wrong, and the baby would pull through.

Once she was born, it was a different story; they couldn’t figure out what exactly was wrong, and nothing they tried seemed to improve her situation. After six days of being the sickest baby in the NICU, my baby girl died in my arms.

I was in shock. I had been so sure that like so many other people with scary NICU stories and now-healthy kids, that this would be a hard time we got through, but that everything would be OK, that one day she would triumphantly come home. But that never happened. She died. And me, my husband, and my son had to figure out how to move forward without her.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that it was awful. Words cannot describe what it feels like to lose a child. Even now, I am sobbing as I write this, and I still get choked up and teary-eyed every time I think or talk about it. In the throes of my deepest grief I never could have imagined that anything remotely good could come of her death. And finding positives in a loved one’s death can bring up feelings of guilt and doubt. Still, with some distance, I have made a startling realization, which is that the experience has changed me, and it has actually made me a much better person than I was before.

I am not saying that I was a total jerk before this, but I honestly feel that the person I am today is a kinder, more caring, more useful person than the person I was 6 months ago–and I have only my sweet baby girl to thank for that.

I am more sympathetic and understanding.
This is probably the least surprising outcome, but it’s really noticeable. I remember when the wounds of grief were very new for me, I wished I could wear a sign out in public saying something like “Be Nice – I Have Been Through Hell!” I find that now I tend to treat pretty much everyone with a kinder, gentler manner–because who knows what kinds of hell they may have been through. I am so much more patient with people, and more likely to give strangers the benefit of the doubt. Whether it’s the annoying guy hemming and hawing over every single avocado at the supermarket, the woman who cuts me off on the freeway on-ramp, or any other minor social offender, I find I’m far more likely to just let it go and move on. (Full disclosure: I did get pretty catty in the airport security line last week, but I’m only human.)

I am a better mother.
I used to think of having children as a given, as something inevitable that everyone got to do and that I would get to do. And I did! I had a son with very few complications. Taking the ability to conceive, deliver, and raise a child for granted was naive and careless. Now I feel that being a mother is remarkable, miraculous experience, and this realization has made me a more thoughtful, caring, patient, appreciative mother. It has changed the way I approach my relationship with my son, because I have learned to be grateful for the opportunity to be his mother instead of just expecting that I would always, and will always, get to be his mother.

I no longer envy others (much.)
After my daughter died, I felt terribly envious of every pregnant woman and new mother that I came across. It made me irrationally angry to see a little baby out and about. Why did this woman have a baby and I didn’t? I will admit that those feelings still bubble up now and again, although less with anger and more with sadness for what could have been. But the general, global envy I used to feel about other people’s lives–when I browsed people’s Facebook pages or heard about some great thing they had done–has pretty much disappeared altogether. I met a woman about two months after this all happened and she commented that I was so lucky to have a new house and a flexible job and the chance to travel and a nice husband. I smiled and thanked her, but all I could think was “I bet she wouldn’t think I was so lucky if she knew I had just lost a child.” Who knows what other people are going through? Despite outward appearances, underneath it all, everyone is dealing with their own issues and problems, too. I realized that my own life’s positives and negatives are just that–my own–and I would rather have mine than anyone else’s.

I am not afraid to be generous and effusive with love and caring.
I remember when the sister of a woman in my book club passed away. I wanted to send a card but I felt awkward because I didn’t know the woman well and I had never met her sister. Now I realize that was such a silly thing to think! When my daughter died, the outpouring of love and caring for me and my family was overwhelming. We received cards and notes and gifts and text messages from people we didn’t know well, or hadn’t spoken to in ages. And every single one of those gestures was like a virtual hug and an affirmation that despite the loss of a dear person, there were all of these other dear people out there in the world sending their love. I have learned never to be stingy with love or caring because it doesn’t matter how well you know a person- what matters is that you share your warm thoughts and kindness with others as much as you possibly can. And I find that now I do just that.

I am inspired to do more for others.
One of the things about losing a child is that it made me (and my husband, so he tells me) about a million times more sensitive to any tales of child death or suffering. Whether it’s a friend of a friend, a refugee child, a kid caught in a war zone, or anything else–I now feel that suffering and those deaths in a profound way every single time. As you can imagine, it’s exhausting and can be an enormous burden to relive the deep, dark feelings of your own child’s death every time you read the newspaper. I figured out that one way I could attempt to alleviate this burden would be to do things to help these kids and parents. Channeling this energy into positive actions has helped a lot. I started a Facebook campaign to raise money for refugee children. I have increased my own donations to child-centered organizations. And most significantly, I have, at age 38, started school again with the goal of becoming a nurse midwife.

I look at it this way: my daughter died after every single medical option was exhausted and her body was simply not able to live. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, one of the best NICUs in the country, the most well-trained staff, and an inexhaustible supply of state-of-the-art equipment was employed to try and save her life. And yet, on the other side of the world–and even in our own country, in some places–other women’s children are dying of preventable diseases, from lack of clean water, from mosquito bites, from dehydration, from poor prenatal care. I realized that I could become a person that could help other women avoid losing a child or make their mothering experience better. I hesitate to say it’s a “calling” because that sounds a little cheesy, but that’s truly how it feels to me. And suddenly, re-starting school and a new career path at age 38 seems like no big deal at all. Because of her death, my daughter could end up indirectly saving the lives of other babies–and the hearts of other mothers. That would be a pretty amazing legacy for a girl who only lived six days.

I know that I am still early in this journey of grieving and loss, and I’m sure there are still more surprises to come as I adjust to this life-altering event. It has made indelible marks on my heart and mind, and the emotions and actions that follow continue to change and reshape as more time passes. But for now, I can find some peace in knowing that my daughter’s legacy is not one just of sadness and loss, but of strength, inspiration, caring, and honesty. And while I wish every single day that she was still here with us, I know that the mark she has made on me, on our family, and in the ripple effects of what has come from this experience, my tiny little girl made her mother a better person.

If you know someone who is grieving, or if you are grieving yourself, I want to share a few things that have really helped me. I still use all of them…
– A book called Healing After Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman – someone gave it to me and it was really helpful and comforting – I plan to give it to others I know as they grieve.
– Meditation apps: I used both the Mindfulness App and the Headspace App to do a few moments of meditation each day. It helped with the anger and overwhelming sadness, and also helped me sleep.
– Amino Acids: I saw a doctor specializing in amino acid therapy and it helped balance my emotions and equipped me to better deal with the grieving process (which is still ongoing.)

photo: Karen Merzenich

6 really weird things I only do when I’m pregnant

I am about 30 weeks pregnant for the second time, and man, I have been doing some strange things. Luckily none of them is self-destructive or harmful, but I feel oddly compelled to share them in hopes I’m not alone.

Really Weird Things I Only Do When I'm Pregnant

I’m not alone – right?

1. I have been obsessively eating ice. I can’t stop eating ice, and what’s more, I have a hierarchy of “good” ice and “bad” ice and even complex ways to turn bad ice into good ice. Best ice: that kind with the holes in it. My ice maker at home makes those boat-shaped hard things and I have to fill up a glass with ice cubes and then pour boiling water over them to make it “good.” Yesterday I ate at least 100 ice cubes this way. Luckily I have strong teeth. The ice in the hospital where I gave birth the first time and will soon give birth again has the absolute number one best texture of ice in the world, and sometimes I think I am looking more forward to the hospital ice than to my child’s birth.

Arm & Hammer Plus OxiClean2. I want to marry my laundry detergent. Arm and Hammer with Oxi-Clean, I just can’t quit you! It’s not even my normal laundry detergent, but they were out of the usual kind so I grabbed it, and holy heck does it smell amazing. It is the best thing I have ever smelled and it makes me want to do the laundry and it makes me want to rub it on my hands or carry a little vial of it around with me to sniff at various intervals. I will never buy another kind of laundry detergent again. I’m yours forever!

3. I take baths instead of showers. I claim it’s because it makes my sore back and legs feel better, but I don’t even know if that’s true anymore. Every night I am totally compelled to fill up a deep tub with warm water and just sit in it and read. (While eating ice, naturally.) Showers, once a surefire favorite, are only OK for me right now.

4. I don’t like meat. I write a blog that’s essentially about how much I love meat! And yet, right now I don’t love meat. I don’t love fish. I don’t even love bacon which is crazy. I don’t want those things and they even gross me out a little. All I want for every meal is noodles in rich creamy cream sauce with as much cheese as possible OR I want to eat like 5 bags of raw baby carrots in one sitting but I do not want to eat any meat.

5. I floss my teeth. Which I normally forget/avoid. Now I can’t get enough of that sensation of getting in between my teeth with floss or a pick and doing some damage. Which is kind of pointless since I don’t even eat meat or anything, just noodles and ice and raw carrots which don’t even get stuck in your teeth.

6. I crave sweet things so much, but then I only want one bite. I must have made at least 10 fabulous banana breads in the past few months. I think I want something sweet so badly that I get off my lazy, huge-bellied butt and make baked goods and then I only want to eat like one bite. Or I buy a whole ice cream cone and then after one or two bites I am totally done with it. Back to the carrots. What is that about?

What’s the weirdest thing you did when you were pregnant? Or are you pregnant now and weirding yourself out?

10 things I’ve learned from taking a toddler around the world

My son Laz is turning 2 in about a month, and so far he has made it to 10 countries–some of them twice. (One friend jokes that Laz’s blankie has more frequent flier miles than he, a 40-year-old man, does.) All of this adventuring is great fun but not without challenges – and the experience has taught me a lot! Here are the top 10 things I’ve learned from taking a baby and then a toddler around the world.

10 Things I learned from taking a toddler around the world

  1. No matter where you go, an old lady will chastise you for dressing your baby too warmly/coldly/incorrectly.No matter what continent you’re on, what country you traverse, in the big city or the backwoods, an old woman is lurking nearby to let you know that you have dressed your child inappropriately for the current weather conditions. And don’t worry if you don’t speak the local language, because she will use hand gestures and disappointed/disapproving facial expressions to get her point across! Try to think of this woman fondly as a surrogate grandmother for your child. Otherwise you may have the urge to slap her, which is probably considered rude in most every culture.
  1. The stroller is not always your friend.
    In a lot of places around the world, they have things like cobblestones. Or 3-foot deep potholes full of garbage. Or hordes of people eating pho on the sidewalk. In these places a stroller is no longer a helpful tool that totes your child and your packages, but rather a terrible burden that YOU now have to carry while your partner carries your child. So in situations like this, you may want to consider the terrain and opt for a backpack, front carrier, shoulder carry, or forced toddler marching.

10 Things I learned from taking a toddler around the world

  1. Don’t assume a kid won’t eat weird/spicy/strong things. I often fall into the trap of assuming my son won’t want “adult” foods–like things that are spicy, vinegary, or in some way strange–but when he tries them, he often likes them. I realize that it’s ME who has the bias of what kids do and don’t want to eat, whereas he just wants to eat delicious stuff. Now we let him try everything and see what he likes, which usually turns out to be pretty much the same stuff that we like.
  1. Travel is great for building a burgeoning vocabulary. Laz only knows maybe 40 or 50 words total, but they now include things like “taxi,” “dumpling,” and “guacamole.” Also: he can totally tell the difference between a bus, a car, a cab, and a train. That’s got to be good for something, right?

10 Things I learned from taking a toddler around the world

  1. Ideally you and your partner should take at least one short solo break per trip. It took us a while to figure this out, but now me and my husband each take 2-4 hours per trip to do something ALONE. Just a few hours to get back that exhilarating feeling of NOT being bound to a tiny irrational person while you’re traveling is enough to carry you through at least for a week, and is an easy treat to come by. If you do it during nap-time it’s even easier on your partner. For example, on our recent trip my husband spent an afternoon getting a long massage and a drink in a fancy bar, and one morning I took a cool photography tour.
  1. Increase the adult to child ratio whenever possible. Have childless adults who love kids in your life? Grandparents? Aunts and uncles? Invite them to go places with you. Or see where they’re going and tag along if they’ll have you. 2 adults to 1 child is OK, but 4 adults to 1 child is awesome.

10 Things I learned from taking a toddler around the world

  1. Don’t get hung up about the plane ride. I find that family travel articles always focus on the plane ride and how hard it can be. In short, long plane rides with a little kid can suck, or they can be OK. But they always end at some pre-determined point and then you are not on the plane anymore. Don’t let the idea of a long plane ride deter you from going places. Plan ahead, be prepared, and know that it will end and you’ll be somewhere really cool so it will be worth it. [Related: 10 Ways to entertain a toddler on an airplane]
  1. But you might want to think about jet lag. I just advocated for not worrying too much about the plane ride… but you may want to worry about jet lag, because it can be pretty horrible. When we returned from a trip to Asia a few weeks ago and went through a week of weird sleeping and waking hours, my husband declared that we are only going places with a 3-hour time difference or less from now on! (Of course knowing him, he will forget all about this when he gets excited about some far-flung destination with a bad time change.) My point is, it’s worth considering, especially if sleep is an issue in your house. For example, if you live on the West Coast and are thinking Spain (9 hour difference) maybe you should look into Argentina (3 hour difference.)

10 Things I learned from taking a toddler around the world

  1. Reflect and discuss so the next trip will be even better. At the end of a trip my husband and I discuss: what worked? What didn’t? What did we love? What was too hard? Was it too annoying to go out to eat for every meal? Maybe next time we’ll try to get an apartment instead of a hotel. Was the jet lag unbearable? Or the flight? Let’s think about a closer destination with less of a time change. Would it have been more fun to have a pool? Let’s make that a priority at the next hotel. Did the cold weather make it less fun? Let’s think about going somewhere warm next time. You get the idea. This kind of reflection helps us decide how to plan the next trip so it’s even better… or may even help us decide that we want to take a break from traveling for a little while.
  1. My strong opinion is that the best time to get a big epic trip in is between about 6 and 9 months of age. If you are thinking about one big trip, my strong opinion is that when the baby is around 6-9 months old is the ideal time (you know, until they’re like 8 or 10.) Why? Hopefully their sleep is not so crazy by this time and you’re not waking up constantly. Hopefully your family has a rhythm and most basic things figured out by now. Hopefully your baby still likes nursing or bottles enough to get comfort from them on an airplane. If they are eating solid foods, they are still of the small, packable kind. They don’t need a lot of toys or gear at this age and their clothes are small for packing. They are portable and can’t walk yet, so you can put them in a carrier and do big hikes, see museums, and so forth without them being antsy or overly heavy. They are cute and will charm the people they meet. All of this makes this an ideal time for you to take that BIG trip you’ve been thinking about, because once you have a walking, talking, eating toddler in your life, things do get a lot more complicated. [Related: Traveling internationally is better with a baby]

Related links:

How and why to travel with little kids, world travel edition

#pinterestFAIL Crafting with my niece

Craft projects we tried on pinterest

Have you seen all those cool DIY kids’ craft projects on Pinterest? Homemade flubber, moon dough, foam dough, glow fairies, glitter balloons, and the like? Well I have, and I’ve been dying to try some. I enlisted my 10-year-old niece Mitra to help me test some of them, and here are our (highly scientific) results.

FOAM DOUGH

The idea: Cornstarch + shaving cream = foam dough! Just mix it together and you’ll have a big pile of crumbly, fluffy, weird-feeling clay to play with. Sometimes this is also called “fluffy stuff” or “fake snow.”

Foam dough  -- fun for kids or a huge mess?

The reality: We poured a bunch of cornstarch and a bunch of shaving cream in a baking dish and went for it. We added some neon orange glitter for good measure. With more shaving cream, it’s stickier, and more cornstarch, it’s drier and crumblier. If you let it sit for about 30 minutes, it gels together and becomes more moldable. The texture is really cool and it’s hard to stop playing with, no matter what your age.

Foam dough  -- fun for kids or a huge mess?

The verdict: Super fun but super messy. Cornstarch and shaving cream are two of the messiest things I can think of, and mixing them together only compounds that. Plus the stuff sticks to your hands something awful. But the texture is so unusual and you can do so many things with it, and the ingredients are easy to clean up. So we would do it again, although next time, ideally outside or with more protective mats/aprons involved.

Foam dough  -- fun for kids or a huge mess?

GLITTER BALLOONS

The idea: Don’t these balloons look neat? Just put a little glitter in, fill them up with air, and voila – a classy cool glitter ballon!

The reality: Too bad the reality wasn’t quite what it was cracked up to be. We tried several different types and color of glitter, and yet, in the end, the balloons all just sort of looked like they had sand in them. And, erm, what about when they pop? That’s right, glitter everywhere. Hmm. Now they don’t seem so fun.

Make a mess with glitter balloons #fail

The verdict: Neither of us would not try this again. We got glitter everywhere, and all we ended up with were some balloons that looked like they had a bit of sand in them. Totally anticlimactic. Not worth the effort nor the price of the components.

GLOW FAIRIES IN A JAR

The idea: I have been wanting to try this for ages. The idea sounds simple: take a mason jar, empty the contents of a glow stick, add glitter, cover and shake.Instant glow fairies!

The reality: Even a 10-year-old could tell the original picture was photoshopped, but we remained hopeful. One snag: the directions say to “cut one end of a glow stick and empty the contents into a jar.” They didn’t mention that the glowing stuff is inside a glass tube that’s nested within the plastic! (That’s what you’re breaking when you snap a glow stick to activate it.) So really, the directions are, snap a glow stick, cut one end off, pour out the contents into a jar, then fish a bunch of broken glass out with tongs. Only then can you add glitter, cover, and shake.

Fairies in a Jar - is it any fun though?

It looked cool, but nothing like the picture. It was just a coating of glow goo with bits of glitter around the jar. And despite the big “non toxic” label on the glow sticks, I was still a little concerned about touching that nuclear goo.

The verdict: We would both make these again, but with reservations. Mitra thought they looked more like nuclear waste than glow fairies. For one thing, glow sticks are pretty cool on their own, so this doesn’t really seem necessary. For another, dealing with the glowing goo and the glass bits was a little tricky. If we did it again, we’d do it at night when we could really enjoy them, because there’s only so long you want to hang out in a dark closet. They could look cool hanging in a tree and we both agreed that they would be pretty neat for Halloween.

SHAVING CREAM IN A BOWL

The idea: Mitra asked if she could play with the remaining shaving cream.

Shaving cream is always fun!

The reality: She spent a good 30 minutes playing with a giant bowl filled with shaving cream. This provided at leas as much entertainment as any of the other projects!

The verdict: We would both try this again. Next time we’d do it outside so we could go even more crazy with the shaving cream. We shared a vision for an ideal summer day: epic shaving cream fight followed by epic water balloon fight (to clean ourselves up, of course.) Pretty cheap, if a bit messy, but hey, it’s shaving cream, so it smells clean and washes up with water really easily. Maybe I should pin it as the next great kids DIY craft idea?

We are looking for more projects like this to try- let me know if you have any to suggest so we can try them in the next round! 

ps I think this definitely goes into “preschooler” and above – my toddler kept trying to eat the foam dough and the shaving cream. And he was the glitter balloon popper that caused the problems. He still has glitter on his forehead. Luckily he was napping during the glow stick part.

World travel is better with a toddler

Our friends, Karen and Ross, just returned from an amazing European escape with their toddler son, Laz. Skeptical that a trip with a rowdy one-year old could be relaxing, I asked her to share their story with us. I hope you like it as much as I do.

Almost a year ago, I wrote a post on this site about traveling internationally with a baby. I made the audacious claim that far from being a hassle, and much to my surprise, bringing the baby actually improved our travel experience. Since my son was only 8 months old at the time, I feared the window of pleasant family travel was rapidly closing, but here I am, 10 months later, and I am now making a second audacious claim: traveling internationally is better with a toddler.

Traveling internationally is better with a toddler

We just got back from 2 1/2 weeks in Switzerland and Italy with our 18-month-old. To up the ante, let me now reveal that on this particular trip, we traveled with not one, but TWO toddlers, since we met up with my in-laws and their 1-year-old daughter halfway through the trip. That’s right: 2 carseats, 2 high chairs, 2 different yet equally irritating cries, 2 people who walk like drunken monkeys and fall down constantly, 2 times the poopy diapers and mealtime messes, all treading foreign lands together.

World travel with a toddler, what a great idea

And we had a great time. Let me explain, by way of comparing and contrasting it to my experiences traveling with baby (including how it’s even better!) and offering my best travel tips for those of you who want to do this too!

Just as good as travel with a baby

You can (still) meet the locals
When we brought our baby to Asia last year, we were amazed at how many people we met. Who knew a baby was the ultimate ice-breaker? Toddlers are perhaps even better for this, as they may actively seek people out to interact with. Left to his own devices, my son will roam a piazza in search of a new friend or admirer every time. One day at the beach, our toddlers went in search of sand toys and stumbled (literally) across a set of twins with a sizable pile of buckets and shovels to share. We ended up hanging out with the family and got great local recommendations and insight on the area.

Traveling internationally with a toddler, beach time

You can (still) spend uninterrupted quality time with your family
On our previous adventure, I mentioned that one of my favorite things about family travel is all of the family time we get together, without the chores, appointments, emails, and all that to butt in. That is true whether you have a little baby, a toddler, or a kid of any age. It is such a treat to spend whole days where everyone is looking at each other instead of an iPhone!

You can (still) cut in line
Toddlers have just as much pull as babies for slightly special treatment in foreign airports, train stations, trams, and the like.

Some additional benefits of toddler travel…

You can slow down and say “yes” a lot more
What a luxury to have no set schedule, no plans, no classes to attend. Want to play in this fountain? Sounds good, we are not in a rush. For once. Want to take a nap? Me too! Let’s do it together – what a treat. We never do that at home. Want to stay longer at the beach? No problem – we don’t have to be anywhere at a certain time because we’re on vacation. Want to play with a hose for a few hours? Fine by me, I’ll have another beer on the terrace. I LOVED having 2 weeks during which I didn’t have to say “hurry up!” or “we’re going to be late!” to my poky toddler.

Traveling with a toddler, say YES

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How we got our baby to stop standing up in the crib

This guest post is by my friend Karen from OffTheMeathook.com, about her son, Laz.

How to get your baby to stop standing in the crib

We are among the lucky few who had a baby that slept through the night from a pretty early age. We didn’t really do anything to make it happen – but around 4 months old, our son just stopped waking up at 2 AM and started sleeping for a good 10-hour stretch almost every night. If he did wake in the night, we would leave him to cry in his crib and he would very quickly get himself back to sleep. I probably don’t have to tell you that this kind of thing can really lull you into a false sense of sleep security. There you are, getting used to finally waking up all rested and refreshed, thinking you have made it through the hard part.

Ha! It turns out we had merely passed Level 1 of this multi-player game we call sleep training.

Fast forward to 9 months old, and our son had proudly learned to grab onto those crib rungs and get himself to a standing position. He had also, seemingly overnight, developed a hyper-acute Spidey-sense to detect the very moment that one tiny part of his deep-sleeping, limp body hit the crib mattress, which would jolt him awake and set him into a screaming, crying fit. Unlike the sweet little baby of just a few months prior, who would quickly roll over and settle in the crib and get back to sleep, we found that our kid was now standing up in the crib, hanging on to the edge, to continue his tantrum from a fully upright position.

The problem? Once he was standing up, he couldn’t figure out how to get down again. So he would cry standing up, until he fell asleep standing up, at which point the fact that he was standing up would jolt him back awake. And the cycle would start all over again, ad nauseum. We had a few nights of feeling exhausted, frustrated, and powerless before we found a way to wrest back control. Of course, we didn’t know if it would work – but we felt relieved to have something to try.

Baby standing in crib

The plan: to “emotionlessly” and silently lay him down over and over until he went to sleep. The first night it took about 50 times of laying him down before he finally got to sleep, sniffling and sobbing. I don’t have to tell you that it was a super hard night. But the next night, it only took 30 times. And the night after that – 10 times. The fourth night, after laying him down just three times he figured the jig was up, and passed out.

What this experience taught me is that my husband and I can handle these parenting hurdles so much better if we work together on a plan that involves specific actions we can take. We both took so much solace in the idea that we were trying something consistent to solve the problem, even though there were really challenging moments (OK, hours.) Luckily, in this case, it worked out. But if it hadn’t, I now know that the right thing for us would have been to make a new plan and try it until we got it right.

It’s been about a month since all this happened, and it’s still working great. If he needs to be laid down at all, it generally takes fewer than 5 times before he gives up and remains lying down. Last night he was acting up at bedtime and standing sentinel at the edge of the crib, whimpering. I went to lay him down and something fabulous happened – he laid himself down and went to sleep.

I love Karen’s rookie mom stories about Laz. We have more if you want to read them: their international baby travels, their nice stuff, their cute monthly photos!

Be your own personal trainer

Magic jar of exercises for moms

I’m pleased to present this guest post from our good friend and rookie mom, Karen, who invented her own way to get fit with a baby in the house:

After I gave birth last year, I lost a lot of my baby weight pretty quickly without a huge amount of effort. I did a lot of walking and hiking with baby and continued taking Pilates a couple times a week, plus I nursed around the clock- all of which helped a lot. But I’m still not quite as trim and toned as I want to be. My son reached a big milestone this past weekend: he turned one. I decided that a year was long enough to wait without getting a little more serious about attacking my baby flab. But like pretty much everyone in the world, I’m really busy, don’t have a lot of time to exercise, and find it hard to get motivated.

My solution? The surprise-laden exercise bingo jar! First, I spent a little time googling good exercises to target both post-pregnancy belly and my other bete noire, that flappy underarm flab (or “chicken nuggets” as my Pilates teacher colorfully calls them.) I picked 12 exercises and wrote them down on little slips of paper. I put the target number of sets and reps on each slip as well. Then I put the little papers in a jar in my kitchen. Every day I have to pull out five slips and do whatever they say. This makes it fun because I never know what I’m going to get, and it only takes about 15 minutes to get through all five exercises. Plus, I don’t have to do the most hated exercises every day –side plank, I’m looking at you– or get bored by doing the same routine over and over.

Magic jar of exercises for moms

I only picked exercises that required no equipment or equipment I already own (which is one set of weights and one magic circle) Also I only picked exercises you can do in your PJs, since I’m planning to do them on the living room rug right after I wake up each morning. I’m not expecting Jessica Alba results, but I feel great that I’ve come up with a solution that sounds doable and targeted… and maybe even a little bit fun. And I’d REALLY love to kiss those chicken nuggets goodbye before the weather warms up enough for tank tops.

Sample exercises for your jar of surprises (copy/paste/print or hand write like Karen did):

  • Alternating arm and leg lifts: 8 count / 2 sets
  • Bicycle crunches: 30 count / 2 sets
  • Mountain climber: 10 reps / 3 sets
  • Scissor kicks: 10 each leg / 3 sets
  • Single leg circles: 10 reps / 3 sets
  • Magic circle (ooh, where do you put that and for how long?)
  • Plank: hold for 15 seconds / 3 sets
  • Side plank 10 seconds / 3 sets on each side
  • Deep plies 16 reps
  • Standing kicks (front then side then back) 10 count each leg / 2 sets
  • Cherry pickers (reach high, then put ‘em in the basket): 20 count / 3 sets
  • Floor effers: 20 count / 2 sets
  • Boxing for 2 minutes with jabs and uppercuts

Suggest more in the comments, ladies, this is a team effort!

Related: Naptime workout ideas, just add technology
[Photos by Karen Merzenich]

Does having kids mean you can’t have nice things?

Our good friend, Karen, always has the best taste in food, furnishings, and fun trips. We have been watching her rookie year of motherhood with great curiosity and interest. She agreed to share with us a few stories of how things are changing at their house in this guest post. Thanks, Karen (and ps your place still looks amazing)!

chair

Having had my first kid at age 35, my husband and I had already acquired some nice furniture and art. This is the story of what happens to said belongings after a baby enters the picture.

When we moved in together, we were both 31, highly aesthetically inclined, enjoyed flea and antique market bargains, and had the fortune of inheriting a couple special pieces, so our combined household furnishings were actually pretty sweet. My husband bought this beautifully upholstered ice blue tweed number at a fancy mid-century modern store before we were dating. Seeing it in his bachelor pad made a positive first impression, as it showed me that the guy had good taste and class. A few years ago, I had new cushions made so they would be more comfortable. When someone spilled red wine on the chair, we called for a home visit from the upholstery cleaner to get the stain out immediately. You see where this is going?

The chair is in my living room. We hang out in this chair a lot! We love it. It’s big enough for both of us and a comfy size and shape for nursing. Every month, I have my son pose in the chair to see how big he’s getting. Cute, right?

laz-in-chair

Yesterday we were playing one of his favorite games: he stands up on this chair and cruises around it, knowing that if (make that, when) he falls, it will be into my lap. Out of nowhere, he threw up all over the chair. I had a minor panic — this is our good chair! And then I started to look more closely at it. After nine months of baby-love, this chair was not quite as pristine as I had imagined. In fact, in some areas it appears to be permanently stained and saturated with (I hope) spit-up, drool, and breast milk.

What happened to our chair? I mean, sure, I have busted out the Oxi-Clean from time to time, but I’m not sure the chair will ever be the same.

In his earlier, blob-like stage, it was pretty easy to control both toy creep and furniture ruination, so our living conditions remained basically the same. But as the little guy gets older and more active, he requires more entertainment and becomes more and more unintentionally destructive with every passing day. As for the toys, my husband was elated when our son outgrew his baby gym, but still cringes every time he walks into the living room and sees his monstrous walker (a recent gift from Grandma) ramming repeatedly into the ottoman of his beloved Eames chair. But he knows his kid is never happier (and he will outgrow it pretty soon), so he can live with it.

laz-livingroom

But having one little baby and wanting more children, we are probably in for about 10 years of general furniture and home destruction on some level, and that deserves some attention. We need a strategy.

If only there were some way to mind-meld with my child so he would destroy the 12-year-old Ikea dresser with non-functioning drawers and lots of strategically-placed duck tape. But somehow I have a feeling he will be more interested in scratching his initials into my grandmother’s heirloom redwood slab coffee table. If only I could somehow guide him to wipe his muddy hands on the crappy rug I’ve owned since college instead of taking a blunt object to the delicate legs of the silver-plated chest that took a year to arrive from Cape Town on a container ship. But I know this is not the case.

So I think we will have to take a wait-and-see approach and see what kind of kid he is and what we really care about. I’m hoping we can use some gating plus vigilance plus discipline to protect the things we love most, but I have no doubt in my mind that someday I will discover something important to me has been ruined. I vacillate between thinking “it’s just stuff, who cares?” and “having kids doesn’t mean you can’t have nice things!” I wouldn’t be surprised if I continue to go back and forth between those two feelings.

laz-in-charge

For example, let’s talk about the dining room table – a lovely hunk of maple that used to be shiny and pretty and perfect – that we now strap the high chair to. It’s getting messed up in spots so I’ve started rotating the high chair so it gets sort of equally messed up in all places. And to be honest, I don’t even care. I guess in 20 years I can get out the belt sander and refinish it. But more likely than that, I will just decide to live with a highly imperfect dining room table and cover it up with a tablecloth when company comes over.

laz-diningroom

And as for the beloved blue chair? Well luckily, it came in a pair – and for the time being, the second one is still in good shape. So after my kids destroy this one, we’ll still have one to pass down for the grandkids to mess up.

Traveling internationally is better with a baby

Our friends, Karen and Ross, just returned from an amazing voyage with their eight-month old. We begged for all the dirty details. Once Karen shared them with us, our new travel series for rookie moms was born. I hope you enjoy her trip and tips too.

My husband and I are no strangers to adventure: one of our early trips together involved a Chinese ice festival (at minus 40 degrees), we spent our honeymoon in Lebanon and Syria, and we were tracking gorillas in Rwanda right before I got pregnant. So as you can imagine, when I did get pregnant, my husband and I repeatedly vowed that we wouldn’t let a baby slow down our big travel dreams and plans. We didn’t book any flights until he was securely out of the womb and healthy, but at 2 months he hit Hawaii, and by 3 months he had his first passport stamp from Colombia. At 5 months he crossed the border into Canada, and we have just returned from an epic and awesome 2 weeks in Bhutan and Thailand.

We knew that traveling would be different with a kid, but we were determined to try it and see what happened despite all of the expected and imagined challenges. Some friends and family called us crazy – and a few even implied that it was somehow selfish or dangerous. But you know what? As a new mom and seasoned traveler, I have discovered something pretty shocking – something that I never could have imagined, and certainly something no one told me about: Traveling internationally is better with a baby. Before you call me crazy, let me explain…

You can finally meet the “locals”
My whole life I have wanted to travel in a way that allows me to “meet the locals” – the real people who actually live and work in a place. It turns out that in a lot of foreign countries, all you need to do to meet the locals is strap a baby to yourself in some kind of contraption (in our case: front-facing Bjorn) and walk around. You will meet men, women, people selling things, people buying things, rich people, poor people, kids, old people, everyone. People will want to hold your baby and touch your baby and tell you about their babies and their lives and talk for hours. I have never met so many strangers in a strange land as with this tactic. It is fantastic and it completely changes the trip.

A caveat: if you don’t like people touching your kid, this could be unpleasant for you. We had a lot of face, hand, and feet touching which we were mostly OK with (minus exactly one sanitarily-sketchy situation where I attacked my son with baby wipes as quickly as possible.)

You can spend actual, uninterrupted quality time with your family
When my husband and I are at home with our baby, it’s great! We can hang out together, goofing off, enjoying each other’s company, and trying to drink in all the fun parts of being a parent to a smiley, cute little baby… for about 15 seconds, until one of us has to change the laundry, write an email, return a call, run to the store, and so forth. On vacation we have all of the great parts with none of the stresses of everyday life. There’s no laundry, no email, and we can just focus our time hanging out together without feeling the pressure of needing or wanting to do something else. A major change of scenery (and ideally, a lack of free WiFi) can allow you some uninterrupted time with your kid and your spouse in a way that’s more challenging to get at home.

The flight may even feel faster and be more fun
Have you ever gotten off an airplane and thought, “WOW! That was super interesting and relaxing!”? I haven’t, despite my best efforts to bring snacks and books and electronic devices to entertain myself. I really feared that the hardest part of these long trips with baby would be the flights – but then I realized something: flying is not actually that fun or comfortable even if you’re alone, and a baby actually adds some distraction and time-wasting to an otherwise boring time slot. I was also obsessively worried about people being hostile to us because we were bringing a baby on the plane, but I’ve found that giving out big, open smiles right from the get-go goes a long way towards disarming people who don’t seem thrilled that you’re bringing baby on board. I think it communicates “Yes, I brought a baby on this flight – but I’m a considerate person and will do my best, so bear with me.” I’ve also noticed that when flying to or within other countries, people on the plane may have a different attitude altogether – and can be genuinely helpful and interested in the baby! What a treat. On a flight within Colombia during which my husband and I weren’t sitting together, the two businessmen next to me spent the whole flight chatting with me about their kids and grandkids, telling me insider info on where to eat in Cartagena, and cooing at my guy- and they happily held and bounced him when I needed to get something out of the overhead bin.

Because of all of this, I have found that some flights actually seemed to go by faster than usual because I was so busy dealing with the baby. My baby really loves the loud white noise of the plane and the fact that he gets to cuddle with Mom or Dad nonstop, so he tends to sleep a lot on flights, regardless of what time of day it is. Looking out the window, crumpling up the barf bag, and playing peekaboo with the passengers behind him is also a big hit.

One tip for long flights: in addition to all the stuff we bring for baby, my husband packs some food for us, so we’re not beholden to the airline’s meal schedule and choices in case it’s a bad time for baby. It also means we get to eat something we like. We usually pack some fancy (but not stinky) cheeses, some really good crackers or bread, and some grapes and bananas.

You can cut in line all the time
Airports, train stations, and the like can be a huge hassle with kids – but international travel is a different story. Even in the USA, the international flights usually have a security line set up for families and many airlines allow pre-boarding for international travel. In many other countries, families are treated like royalty, ushered to a special passport window, rushed to the front of the line, or given other accommodations to make life easier. All because you’re toting an infant.

You can nurse with abandon
I am pretty comfortable nursing my baby out in public, but I usually feel compelled to use a blanket or “hooter hider” as a courtesy to others. I have also been in situations close to home that have felt actively hostile to the idea of a nursing mother busting the boob out. In some countries, however, I have noticed that breastfeeding is what I *wish* it were here – a non-event that goes totally unnoticed by everyone, because it’s so incredibly commonplace. I was whipping it out left and right and never got so much as a sideways glance. Aaaaah. Now that feels like a vacation.

You don’t even need an extra suitcase
A lot of people are intimidated by travel with babies because they think they will need to bring a lot of extra stuff. I am obsessed with packing lightly so I was determined to make things work with baby sharing my suitcase. For a baby of 8 months I have learned that we need no actual toys (and if we bring them they barely make the grade) – his favorite toys on our last trip were: the strings on my sweatshirt, the room service menu, his own hat, and a tupperware lid. Clothes? Baby clothes are so little and dry so fast – I bring a smaller amount and wash them in the sink, leaving them to dry in the hotel room while we’re out for the day. Food? Depending where you’re headed, you may need to bring all of your own food – we found this great baby food in dried pouches, Nurturme, that works perfectly for destinations that may not have baby-safe food (and for the airplane.) Mix with bottled water and you’re good to go. It packs flat. We had no trouble able fitting 80 of his little diapers throughout our suitcases. The plus? More room for souvenirs once the diaper space is freed up.

And now for the few tiny parts that actually kind of suck
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there are a few things that are, shall we say, challenging. OK, they suck! The first and most obvious is the sleep. I don’t need to explain how a 13 hour time change is less fun when you’re doing it with a baby. If you’re flexible and have the patience to deal with it because it means you got to go on a super fun trip, it might work for you. Like me, my kid seems to adjust to his new vacation time zone in a matter of days, but needs about a week of readjustment (or in baby terms, screaming and crying and waking up at weird times) to get back to normal upon re-entry.

The second thing is planning. If you’re hanging with a baby, you have to plan better – if you’re stuck by yourself on a 12-hour flight with no food, you’ll be OK in the end, but a baby? No way. So you need to have all your stuff organized and make sure you have food, clothes, diapers, etc. so that if a poo-splosion occurs at 30,000 feet, you’re covered (but not covered in poo). This doesn’t mean you need to bring a lot of extra stuff – just the right stuff in the right places at the right time. Less spontaneity, more planning.

Other than that – I’ve got no major complaints. I’m going on record to say that on balance, traveling internationally is better with a baby.

If you’re experiencing Schadenfreude right now, I will tell you that Karen sent out multiple messages about the lethal powers of baby jetlag AFTER sharing these highlights. She still says it was worth it. I wonder where they’ll go next.

[All photos from Karen Merzenich except the snazzy header which Whitney made to kick off our series of fun, real-world travel adventures]


The stuff a rookie mom needs

Our good friend and rookie mom, Karen, has advice for all new moms and moms-to-be. Wondering about the stuff you’ll need? Here are a few of her favorites from her first four months of motherhood. We didn’t ask her to include our book, but we’re touched that she did. I left in the advice she sent to her friend because I figured we could all use the vote of confidence.

mama and baby

You’ll be a mom soon, and you may need some stuff from day one… and if you’re like me, you’ll have no idea what those things are! I tried a whole bunch of products out and here are the ones that got me through those first few months. I hope they’ll help you out too.

Skip Hop pronto changing station
Skip Hop pronto changing stationIf you’re on the go as much as we are, you will get great use from this! Room for wipes and diapers, plus a fold-out pad. You can stick it in your bag easily, because it’s flat. Comes in super cute Jonathan Adler patterns and colors too, which can be a good distraction from the task at hand. Find on Amazon.

Portable diaper bag dispenser (with extra bags)

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