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)

[Read more…]

Kale chips for kids

Our friend (and everybody’s favorite auntie) has another recipe to share. This time it’s a side dish guaranteed to give you super powers: kale chips! Holden, age 5, and I can eat a whole batch ourselves. Too bad 3-year old Milo won’t touch ’em.

In my numerous forays into learning about good nutrition, there is one food that pops up over and over again: kale. It is literally one of the healthiest vegetables out there, packed with almost every nutrition buzzword I can think of right now, like antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, phytonutrients, and omega-3s. It’s been shown to prevent cancer, slow memory loss, aid with digestion, and much more.

So you probably want to get some in your diet for you, your kids, your partner, and so forth, so you can all live long and be smart and healthy and good-looking, right? But you have a hard time selling the pile of slimy green stuff on the plate at dinner time, yes? Enter the magical world of kale chips.

[Read more…]

Taco night, a new weekly tradition

One of my favorite dinners as a kid was taco night, where everyone got to make their own tacos from a buffet of filling choices. When you’re a kid, people are always telling you what you can and can’t do or what you should and shouldn’t eat. Taco night is autonomy. It’s freedom from authority. It’s your one chance to do it your own way. And that is why it’s fun for everyone.

Taco night is not a recipe, it’s a fungible and customizable set of guidelines that you can tailor to your tastes and time. Here are some ideas and variations of what to include:

Tortillas: My mom used to individually deep fry flour tortillas in oil to order for each family member (!!!) but for a variety of reasons involving my laziness and my arteries I don’t do that. I like corn or flour tortillas toasted over the gas flame of my stove top. Done carefully and over a low enough flame, you get a little char on there that’s just delicious. Of course, room temperature tortillas or hard shells are just fine too.

Meat: You have a few choices for the meat here. I sauté ground beef with a packet of MSG-laden Lawry’s taco seasoning, because I think it has crack in it, but my purist mother only used salt and pepper on her meat. You can also use ground turkey or chicken, or the meat from a rotisserie chicken. If you live near a Mexican market you can buy carnitas, carne asada, etc. Grilled shrimp or fish are unorthodox choices for me, but I will admit they can be delicious.

Standard accoutrements: Shredded cheese – heated refried, black, or pinto beans – sour cream or Mexican crema – avocado slices or guacamole – shredded lettuce – pico de gallo – hot sauce.

Non-standard but delicious accoutrements: Roasted corn – Roasted peppers – sautéed onions – cilantro leaves – chopped scallions – olives – sautéed mushrooms. [Read more…]

Gingered Indian Salmon, the easy way

This recipe utilizes one of my favorite kitchen cheats, er, techniques– the marinade and the sauce are one and the same, applied differently. Essentially you put some a couple seasonings in a food processor with some yogurt and use half of the mixture for the marinade while reserving half for the sauce. The salmon cooks perfectly in foil packets and stays moist and delicious.

Depending on their fine motor skills and/or how grossed out they are by raw salmon and green things, older kids can even help you wrap the salmon in foil for cooking.

To round out the meal, throw some rice in the rice cooker to serve with the salmon. You can substitute coconut milk for ½ the water if you want creamy coconut rice. For something green on the side, frozen peas, green beans, corn, asparagus, or broccoli would all go well with this. Or, you can simply serve the salmon pieces atop a bed of baby spinach and drizzle the whole thing with some of the reserved yogurt sauce.

Tip: when I’m using fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley, I really can’t be bothered to pull off the leaves individually. So I wash the whole bunch and dry it in paper towels, then grab the whole big hunk of leafy part with my hands, as if I were pulling someone’s hair, and rip it off. You will get a few stems but that’s OK. Of course, if you have a little kitchen helper, he/she might find it fun to take off the leaves individually, so that’s an option too.

Recipe: Gingered Indian Salmon [Read more…]

Quick Macaroni & Cheese (without the box)

Food, food, food! Do I seem obsessed to you? I truly believe that getting dinner on the table Every Single Night is one of the great challenges of rookie-mom-dom. We welcome our good friend, Karen, to share another easy peasy recipe with our readers: Quick (and healthier) Mac and Cheese good enough for kids and adults.

I admit I’m a sucker for that bacon trick. Oh, and the breadcrumb trick. Yummmy!

I am going to tell you a dirty little secret about myself: I like Kraft macaroni and cheese from a box. It might be because I ate it so much as a kid that I have some sort of Stockholm syndrome thing going on with it, or it might be that I am just not all that refined. I only occasionally eat it at home, and when I do it’s totally on the down-low and I shamefully hide all the evidence afterward. In case you’re not disillusioned enough by my bad habits yet, let me also reveal that I put soy sauce on it. Don’t knock it til you’ve tried it: the soy sauce actually makes the orange chemical cheese-like product taste more like, well, cheese. Strange, I know.

Of course, the sad thing about that Kraft box is the questionable ingredient list. Aside from the unnatural Doritos-colored cheese powder, did you know that one of the main preservatives in boxed Mac and Cheese is a common ingredient in laundry detergent? Ick.

The good news is that contrary to popular belief, macaroni and cheese is really easy to make from scratch, and offers a lot of room for customization. [Read more…]

Auntie Karen’s Crock Pot Pulled Pork

Our good friend Karen is amazing in the kitchen. When she invites you over for a fabulous dinner party, you don’t want to miss it. She assures us that she also can cook a quick dinner using regular-person ingredients.

We put her to the test and asked her for four terrific, easy-enough-for-a-rookie-mom recipes to share over the next few weeks.

I love pulled pork, and I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to work that hard for it. You can put 4 things in a crock pot before work and come home to a delicious-smelling house and a happy family. Plus, you get to eat sandwiches for dinner. Sandwiches!

This recipe will serve 6-8 people and gets dried out if you try to make less, so invite the neighbors over or have it 2 nights in a row! You can make this recipe with boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts as well. I like it on a soft bun with some coleslaw, but it’s also good wrapped in a tortilla.

Recipe: Crock Pot Pulled Pork
serves 6-8


  • 1 boneless pork shoulder, about 2-3 lbs, chopped roughly into 2 inch cubes
  • 12 ounces of your favorite barbecue sauce
  • 2 Tblsp honey (unless your BBQ sauce is very sweet already)
  • salt to taste (1-2 teaspoons)


  • Put everything in a crock pot. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
  • Serve on a bun with coleslaw.

Not-so-secret hints:

  • Feed the baby: As long as it’s not too spicy, the pork and bread should be OK to cut up.
  • Picky toddler: If your kid likes meat there is a good chance he will go for this. Of course, peanut butter and jelly on a bun is a distinct possibility too.
  • Lower the calories: Make a lettuce wrap instead of using a bun; the bun is the caloric culprit here.
  • Make it fancy: Pulled pork ain’t meant to be fancy! {but you could be an overachiever and make your own coleslaw}
  • Leftovers? Do it all over again. I can eat these sandwiches for 3-4 meals in a row before getting sick of them.

Related Posts:
Activity #358: Declare Crock Pot Night
Who’s Auntie Karen?
Coleslaw recipe from simplyrecipes for overachievers

Let us know if you make it and what you think!

Fashion Don’t: Fake High Heel Shoes For Babies

I have a very long and diverse list of blogs I slog through each morning looking for content, so I see strange unholy things on the internet all the time. However, this is the only thing in recent memory that actually, literally, made me gasp aloud in horror.


These are soft faux leopard-print high heels for babies, and they make me cringe. Learning that they cost $35 makes them all the worse. Seriously. Just. So. Wrong. I don’t like to be judgmental about people’s baby fashion choices, but I am going to make an exception for these and say there is no good reason to subject your baby to this. Or me, in case I’m in the room too.

Image source:

Make your own play-dough

flying fairyI don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to work with Play-Doh lately, but my niece Mitra loooooves the stuff so I get to play with it all the time. It comes in all kinds of crazy colors these days- you can actually buy a pack that claims to have 50 different colors! Oh, and it smells disgusting.

I never knew about REAL Play-Doh as a kid, because my resourceful mom made my sisters and me play with homemade play-dough. It’s cheaper, it’s safe, it’s edible, and it’s great for people like me who don’t have too many toys in their house. It only takes a few minutes to make, and can even be composted afterwards (if you’re into that sort of thing.)

playdoh sailboatYou don’t need the fancy toys and accessories either- you can find all kinds of great substitutes around the house. A garlic press was our personal favorite as kids. Plastic cookie cutters and rubber stamps are really fun as well. With littler kids, anything that makes a texture is fun and educational- a pot scrubber, a mesh strainer, etc.

To make play-dough: In a saucepan, combine 1 cup flour, 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons cream of tartar, 1 teaspoon oil, and ¼ cup salt. Stir over medium heat until smooth. Remove from pan and knead until blended. Store in a plastic bag or airtight container when cooled.

If you want to add colors, you can knead in food coloring pastes or liquids. It won’t be as vibrant as the store-bought stuff, and your hands will pick up the color when you mix it in. If you don’t want to risk blue hands, just let the kid mix it in! :)

> Related: A gallery of sculpting ideas from Play DOH

Karen is our friend and the sneak behind the gift Heather and her husband both got this Christmas: mailboxtees and a very colorful Auntie.

Auntie Karen’s guide of potentially impractical but completely fabulous gifts for families

The Baby
E is for Eames, a modern alphabet

Since I always think about how people can let a baby be a baby while not completely babyfying their home, I have some suggestions that are win-win for babies and parents. These alphabet letter magnets, decoupaged with stylish origami paper, are only $20/set from Etsy – so you can teach your child about letters AND aesthetics at the same time!

And while we’re on the subject, instead of the usual “A is for Alligator”-type animals poster, how about this Modern Classics Alphabet Poster? Beautiful rich colors and clean lines teach Junior that E is for Eames, L is for LeCorbusier (only $35).

I’m also really feeling these racecar wall decals from ModernTots- they are almost good-looking enough to go in any room of the house ($45/set).

The Daddy
Modern Mix TapeI am loving these District Cotton recycled billboard bags, starting at $54 – he can tuck away his laptop OR diapers and a sippy cup in these super stylish, handcrafted, one-of-a-kind bags made from old billboards.

Or, give him the updated form of the most romantic gift that ever was — the mix tape. Suck UK has a USB mix tape drive that looks like a tape, but opens up to reveal a USB drive you can load with all of those songs you used to love, before your auditory world was dominated by the Wiggles and the Backyardigans. Grown-up songs ONLY, OK?

The Mommy
Staying up all night with a screaming child can really ravage the look of your skin, but a touch of the Bare Minerals foundation powder will give you the illusion that you are a fresh-faced young thing who has never even heard the words “nipple chafe”. It takes about 5 seconds to apply and it’s SPF 15 to boot! A $50 gift certificate will get her (or you) the Kabuki brush and a powder of her choosing.

styley gliderThis one is a major splurge — but for $1100 you can get a glider, which we all know is the necessary objet of early babyhood, that’s really great looking.

I’ve always been partial to these probably-super-impractical-but-gorgeous silk shantung OopaBaby slings. Give it (or get it) before the holidays though, so you can wear it out to all of the holiday soirees! They start at $79 and there are some that come in more everyday fabrics as well, if you think the equation of baby+silk = disaster.

The Big Family Gift
What could be better than a colorful DNA print of the whole family’s DNA? DNA 11 will send your gift recipient cheek swabs and instructions, and then create a surprisingly beautiful and colorful print of each family member’s DNA. They start at $390.

Or — and this is not such a big splurge gift, but would be super cool — if you’re crafty, take this idea of the “Missing Husband Pillow” from craftzine and make a pillow that represents each member of the family so you never ever ever have to miss each other. Plus if your real kid is being bratty you can momentarily take solace in your silent and always well-behaved pillow-child.

The Grandparents
warhol your babySince the grandparents are so kind and generous to everyone else (at least in my family) you have to get them something good. Maybe the grandparents are hipsters too… in which case you can order custom prints of your kid in a Warhol-style poster. Send your photos into PopArtWorks and they’ll do it for you. They’re not cheap, so if you’re a) clever, b) own Photoshop or know someone who does, and b) and live near a Kinko’s, then try Melissa Clifton’s online tutorial and make your own!

To highlight tiny pictures of their lovely grandchildren get them this lovely Slide Light from The Conran Shop for $285 that they can fill with their favorite photos and change at will. And don’t worry — you can send your digital pictures here and for about 2 bucks a pop, they’ll mail them back in 35mm slide form!

Thanks to Karen for inspiring both outrageous spending sprees and thrifty craft projects! Since she’s the only childless in her family, they count on her to keep them hip at the holidays… while they give each other sweatsuits, power tools, and other such necessities.

If you’re itching for more, check out 39 mom-tested holiday gift ideas in the Rookie Moms Holiday Shopping Guide.

Gift Idea: Keep your cheesiness to yourself

I stumbled on something else that might make a cool gift for a parent. I used to sell these silver necklaces at my store: they had two different origami papers on each side, so it was like two necklaces in one, depending which side you wore. The ones I sold had a monkey on one side and pink flowers on the other. They are really well-made and beautiful. So, I looked at the website and now she is doing custom jewelry incorporating your own personal photos.

I think the most appealing is one that has the pretty paper on one side, and a picture of your kid on the other- so you don’t actually sit there displaying your kid on your chest. You can wear it paper-side out, but you have a cute picture close by (and close to your heart, awww) in case someone asks or you miss him too much!

Who’s Karen? Oh yeah, now I remember!

Remind Yourself That You’re A Great Parent

You are a better parent than these guys

I proffer two examples to remind you that in the parenting pantheon, you are a great parent! I am, of course, assuming that it wasn’t you who ordered this rather ill-advised “Grand Theft Auto” cake for a 4th birthday

Nor buy your child this toy gun with a whistle on the barrel, which encourages him to put the gun barrel in his mouth. Yikes!

So as long as you’re not doing either of those things, you’re ahead of the curve. Good job!

Karen is our friend and the brains behind the fabulous We thank her for thinking we’re such awesome parents because we don’t do this stuff. Yet.

[Photos from boing boing]