Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Part 5 - Travelling with Baby K | Train Travel with Baby

When deciding how to travel around Europe we opted for trains for a few reasons, though number 1 was probably our biggest reason:
  1. it saves time when you have to feed and change baby! (no stopping on the side of the road...)
  2. space (okay, so trains are a bit crammed, but we were able to stand and rock Baby K to sleep a few times - thanks to our Baby Bjorn carrier! But also, Baby K had some space to move around and bop around and spend some of her energy instead of being confined to a car seat
  3. ease and accessibility
  4. no navigating on the fly
  5. cost
We definitely appreciated The Man in Seat 61's  website with his tips and ideas. His practical tips and advice helped in the initial planning of our trip.

From there we spent time checking out various train websites: Trenitalia (though portions are in Italian, it is reasonably easy to figure out what everything says), TVG, the Eurostar, and Southern. We were able to pre-book most of our train trips, except for the regional trains (ex. Pompeii to Paestum and Pisa to Venice were considered "regional", but in both of those cases we were able to find the schedule ahead of time and plan accordingly. We did not have any problem getting seats on those trips).

Sadly, while in Bern we discovered that France had "shutdown" for a few days due to striking transportation workers. We were offered tickets on a "standing room only" train to Paris, which would have taken 6 hours. Um, with a 5 month old? No thanks. We unfortunately at that point stopped our train journey and opted for a flight straight to England :( We'll go back to France one day...

A few warnings and tips... 

Pre-booking trains - depending how far in advance you book, and the time of day your travel at times, you can score some FANTASTIC deals, even on the high-speed trains in Italy (for example, our Naples to Rome tickets cost us 38.00 euros for both of us, while our Rome to Naples tickets cost 18.00 euros for both). However, if you're booking the "economy" tickets, remember you won't get reimbursed for your tickets if you miss you train or the train gets cancelled due to a strike (I'm not bitter at all ;)) This is the risk of "saving" money upfront. You have to weigh the pros and cons for yourself.

Train Stations - some cities have more than one train station! Be careful which one you're booking to, for example Pisa has "Pisa Centrale" and "Pisa S. Rossore". It depends what you need, where you're staying, etc as to which is better for you - Pisa Centrale has a "Left Luggage" option and busses that run to the Tower, while Pisa S. Rossore is closer to the Tower.  Depending on your schedule and your start point and destination while travelling, one station might be more accessible than the other too. Make sure to check the map and the schedules!

Train travel between Naples, Herculaneum (Ercolano) and Pompeii - we chose to use the Circumvesuviana trains for this portion of the trip based upon recommendations from various websites. (Make sure to Google Circumvesuviana as there are LOTS of tips and suggestions on various websites). We caught the Circumvesuviana train from the "basement" of Napoli Centrale after buying our tickets from the ticket counters at the escalators heading down to the train line.  It only cost a few euros for this portion of the trip, and took about 45 minutes to get to Pompeii. We felt safe, but it did feel quite "rustic" - we were travelling with locals! This is a great way to meet the locals as this is the "commuter" train line... and with our daughter, we made a number of new "friends" (very loose term!!) Our daughter found the animated Italians highly amusing - lots of smiles and laughs, which made us even more attractive. I was very glad to have her in a Baby Bjorn carrier for this portion of the trip (an evening train ride to Pompeii!) as it made her inaccessible to those who wanted to hold her, though she did get touched lots. 

If you're going just to see the ruins, stop at "Pompeii Scavi"which is very close to the entrance of the ruins - they have a "Left Luggage" available for a small fee (you don't want to cart your bags around the ruins!) Make sure you choose the stop closest to your hotel/hostel/B&B, however, if you're staying there. We caught the train to the Circumvesuviana "Pompei" station which was a short walk to our B&B (though our host & hostess were more than willing to drive us in their van).  This is a different train station than the one that the Trenitalia trains run through, which we needed for our day trip to Paestum. 

"Left Luggage" - this is a brilliant service if you're only stopping for a short time at a place. Many train stations offer this service for a few euros PER bag - their websites usually list how much it costs. BUT, be warned, trains can be delayed slightly and other things can happen along the way (such as the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport taking a seemingly mandatory delay of 30 minutes before bags will be available on the baggage carousel) ... and so if you're rushing to make a deadline (for example your Colesseum entry time), allow extra time for Left Luggage too as the major sites and train stations will have a long line-up of people checking their baggage, which has to be scanned for security purposes. Never have we run so fast... our poor daughter got jostled along in her stroller along the "Roman Roads" as we SPRINTED from Roma Termini to the Colesseum being the "budget travellers" that we are. :) Oh the memories!

Curious about more travel tips? Check out the rest of my series!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Part 4 - Travelling with Baby K | Airplane Travel with Baby

So "Travelling Tuesday" has morphed into "Travelling Thursday"...oops! The days just get away from me :) Hope you enjoy today's post!

Admittedly, this was initially the most nerve-wracking part of the trip....

Some things we did to make it easier:

-we called the airline and pre-booked our seats, requesting "bulk head seating". We paid extra, but it was worth the leg room and space on the long-haul flight. They provided us with a bassinet which attached to the "wall" of the plane, however since our daughter is extremely restless and they required us to use the "cover" and zip her into the bassinet, she wasn't interested in sleeping in it. But we used the space to stand with her and rock her and for all of the extra paraphernalia babies need - it could be right at our finger tips.

We lucked out and had an extra seat between us for the long haul! Miss K got to stretch out on her own seat :)

-I nursed her on take-off and landing, and on-demand. I felt like a milking cow, but I reminded myself how dry I feel when I'm flying.  Also - airplane attendants have a job to do. Listen to their instructions (even if they tell you not to nurse baby), but once they're seated for take off, nurse your baby!

**If you're no longer nursing, I suggest a soother or anything else your baby can suck on. The air pressure changes do hurt if you don't know how to handle them - and baby doesn't know this. It makes it easier for everyone involved**

-Tylenol - while I don't condone mindlessly "drugging" baby, I did give her a dose of Tylenol about 1/2 hour before take-off to help her with any pain she might experience and to help keep her calm. I don't know if this helped or not, but taking off was never a problem.

-Toys - we packed a couple of favourites (ex. Sophie the Giraffe; I made "leashes" for them out of fabric or ribbon, and then attached carabiners to them so that we could attach them to her stroller, carrier, cot, or wherever we were and I didn't have to keep picking them up off the floor!), and we also packed some new ones that I knew she would enjoy (ex. fabric book that made crinkly sounds - entertaining for her, but not too loud or annoying for other passengers!)

-Diaper cube - packing everything I needed to change her in one packing cube made quick dashes to the bathroom easy (and let's face it, those bathrooms are TINY, so the less I needed the better!) It was easier than fumbling around the backpack for the bits and pieces that I needed.

We used the smallest Heys cube for her "diaper cube"

-if at all possible plan to travel during baby's sleepiest time of the day so that baby does in fact sleep... and maybe you'll luck out and get some sleep too, but saying that...

-as parents, plan on NOT sleeping (then you won't be disappointed, not matter how little sleep you get!) If you can break up your travel time with a chance to sleep - bonus! Research airport lounges and/or hotels where you can crash for a horizontal nap, even if baby is playing in the crib/on the floor beside you.

-pack extra supplies (diapers, clothing, snacks) because you never know.

And finally, remember, most people get it. Babies are babies.  Long before we travelled with kids, I had enough sense to pack ear plugs and an eye cover because I knew I would be in close proximity with other people and it might not be the most comfortable sleeping experience. I planned for this. These days, most people know to plan ahead too.

Curious about more travel tips? Check out the rest of my series!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Part 3 - Travelling with Baby K | Shopping for Travel (for Baby and you!)

Welcome back! I hope you're learning lots from our experience and that this has been helpful :) We're calling it "Travel Thursday" this week instead of Tuesday - oops! What a busy week... and I'm only posting once as this is a SUPER LONG post!

Oh - this was one of my favourites... I LOVE shopping for travel! Love it. Love it. Love it. My husband is a good sport about it too.  Here are some must haves on the trip! Hang onto your socks though, this is a LONG one... 

Luggage: Suitcase & Packing Cubes
Our FAVOURITE luggage is our Heys luggage that we bought at Sears before we trekked around NZ and Aus for a month - so these suckers are STURDY. They have survived several trips and are still holding strong! Notice you can buy BRIGHT colours - making them easy to spot on the luggage carousel. 

Yup. That's us. Nearly 6 weeks in Europe and we had 1 suitcase, 1 collapsible stroller, 1 "diaper bag" (a small backpack that was basically our day bag - it contained a large water bottle, Baby K's diaper cube, a nursing cover, a change of clothes and anything else we needed for the day) and an extra backpack (with diapers and extra clothes for Miss K) for the initial flight in case they lost our luggage. We packed it in the suitcase for the remainder of the trip. 

Another Heys product that we LOVE are their Packing Cubes
I'm not sure if there is anything else like them on the market, but quite honestly, we have travelled extensively with these cubes and we never regret using them. Thankfully we were able to borrow 3 different colours of them, and so each of us had our own colour - that way it was easy in a giant suitcase to unpack and repack clothes. Each of us used a large one for our clothes. Miss K had the next size filled with spare diapers, and another filled with a few toys, a swimsuit and some extra toiletries (such as nail clippers). She also had a small one that we kept in the diaper bag containing her diapers for the day (we packed 5 for each day), bum cream, changing mat, wipes and hand sanitizer. It was easy to dash off to change her with just that small cube, whether on the plane or sight-seeing or ..... you get the point. 

Heys gets a few other props from us...
Power Adapter: Heys All in One Power Adapter - a must-have if you want to charge your iPhone, camera batteries... etc where their outlets and power supplies are not "North American". What I love about this one, it's one using so I can't lose plugs.

Luggage Scale: Heys Luggage Scale - when we fit EVERYTHING into 1 suitcase, we had to make sure we weren't overweight, this little device is small and accurate. We could whip it out anywhere to check if we were within the restrictions.

I went to Toys R Us and I purchased their cheapest collapsible stroller - in fact, I think it was even on sale for under $20 at the time.  It was perfect - it was lightweight and easy to fold on the go (which we needed a few times trying to catch trains and subways!) We didn't want to take an expensive one and end up with it being wrecked as we knew we would be travelling lots.  This stroller lasted our entire trip through Europe while she was 5/6 months old and then again when she was 9/10 months old and we were in the Dominican Republic. She napped in it, caught the sights in it and at times even played in it when we couldn't put her on the floor for various reasons.
Drawbacks to this cheap stroller - the wheels didn't always roll nicely on smooth airport floors. The "umbrella" was also a bit of a joke, however we remedied this with a muslin swaddle cloth tied to it and draped over in a variety of fashions depending upon what we needed it for.  We also packed a small roll of duct tape just in case... though we didn't need it. 

Baby Carrier:
Before Miss K arrived we purchased a Baby Bjorn carrier 2nd hand for a STEAL.  It is definitely pricey if you buy it new. But if you can score it as a gift or one in good condition that's second hand, it is WELL WORTH IT! We used it every day - when I had to pace with her on the plane to help her snooze (though you can't wear it during landing/take off), on trains and subways, on boat rides, walking around when she was fussy in her stroller, in museums (ex. the Sistine Chapel!). The only real downside to it is baby-wearing can be quite warm!  On hot and sunny days, when she was stripped down to just a onesie, we used a muslin swaddle cloth tied to the clips to provide shade for her without adding too much extra heat (just like this photo below - and if she was sleeping, we could tie it even higher to cover her arms too)...

If we were to do it again, I definitely have my eye on an Ergo. I think my tired back would have appreciated it some days ;) 

Muslin Swaddle Cloths:
I've mentioned these a few times... they're amazing for summer travel! If you don't have an muslin swaddle blankets, they are well worth the investment. I think I picked up 3 for $30 in store from Toys R Us, but really, you can get them from just about anywhere that sells baby stuff. 

We used them as sun shades for her stroller and carrier (see the above photo); she played on them when we were outdoors... and we could cover her at night with them. They are quite large (1m x 1m?) - and they are EASY to wash and they dry super fast.   Because of this final fact, I also used them as burp cloths instead of the burp cloths I packed because they were already out and accessible.  They were always dry by the following morning too, which I can't say for all of our clothing...... 

Back Packs/Diaper Bag/Passport pack:
Okay - MEC is probably my favourite store. If I could I would spend lots and lots of money there. Maybe just on bags. 

We had 4 different "bags" from MEC with us on the trip:
1) Both of us adults wore Cactus Creek hidden money belts: ($12 each)
Surprisingly, it fit under my jeans and under my dress! Perfect for passports, extra cash (always carry some cash when you're travelling - you never know when you might need it! We had this problem on the island of Gozo, when the gas station suddenly only took cash and wouldn't accept our credit cards. Grumble, grumble!), credit cards, etc.. 

2) Our Day Pack/Diaper bag: ($20)
We easily carried our Nalgene water bottle, diaper cube, and any extras for the day in this bag. (This bag has seriously been my "old faithful" - I bought it back in 2004 when I travelled around Europe the first time ... it has gone to university, travelled to far off places and now is our day-to-day diaper bag).

The only minor draw back with this bag was when my husband sweated... one day we had our "itinerary" folder (paper copies of our tickets, etc) right next to his back and it was soaked. Eww :)

3) Toiletries bag: ($14.50)
My hubby and I shared this bag. 

This is my other "old faithful" pack. I've had for 14 years now - I used it all throughout high school (after going through at least one pack a year in junior high, my parents finally caved and spent a little more - though really not that much more) - it has travelled through South Africa, Europe, Brazil, Canada & the US... and I can't remember where else. It is still going strong!

We had it as a spare for the first leg of our journey just in case our main suitcase was lost so we would have the essentials for our daughter. It collapsed nicely into our suitcase when we didn't need it. 

The straps and back have extra padding for sweating and extra heavy loads! The only reason we didn't use it for our day-to-day bag was it was too big! We didn't need all that space.

While on the subject of MEC... a few other things we purchased there:
MEC > Baby K's Sunglasses: ($10)
We practiced with these glasses before leaving (and actually in the store before we purchased them!) - and she took well to them! Score! (Just make sure they're not too tight....)

MEC > Water Tablets: ($9.75)
We didn't want to risk tummy troubles from drinking local water and we didn't want to have to wait too long or have that "yummy" extra flavours that some tabs add to the water - these were perfect!

MEC > Nalgene Water Bottle: ($12.25)
As a 1L bottle it was the perfect size for the tablets (I realize we could have bought a bottle with a fancy filter on it... but we already had the bottle and we were trying to save some money and not add to our already full cupboard of water bottles, travel mugs, etc). We just kept filling it up wherever we were and added more tablets - the downside? We shared it! ;)

An added benefit is that it provided countless amounts of entertainment for our daughter ... we're still not quite sure why. 

MEC > Keen Mary Janes:
Okay - so I wish I had these in black. Mine were "salmon", but they were on sale ;)

I wanted something that I could use for "hiking", but didn't want to pack my regular hiking boots as I knew they would be heavy. I could wear these with or without socks. They were super comfortable for walking long distances, they looked decently formal (though I did pack a pair of fancy flats just in case!) and I could wash the inserts, which part way through the trip I definitely needed to do. Many, many days of sweaty feet and no socks.....

Nursing Cover: aka the "Hooter Hider"

This doubled as a nursing cover and also "shade" once she was finished nursing and had fallen asleep on planes, trains... wherever. 

I only had one time when some very nosey ladies seemed to misunderstand that the reason that I was using the cover was for privacy. I was tucked away in a corner at the Galleria dell'Accademia in Florence, nursing Baby K, and these ladies were quite offended that I didn't want to show them my baby. Um? I'm covered for a reason, thank you very much! Apparently we missed something in the translation....

My husband bugs me that I'm addicted to mine, but they are SO handy! I remember searching and searching for internet cafes the last time I was in Europe... but this time, I didn't have to bother because I had an iPhone. I could compose as many emails I wanted, snap some photos for quick updates, and have them all sitting in my "outbox" until we had wifi.

Important Note:
We kept electronic copies of a variety of documents stored on (passworded) apps connected our (passworded) phones as well - just in case.  These days you have many options for online storage - Google Drive, Microsoft Sky Drive (or is it now One Drive? I can't keep up!), Dropbox, Box, Evernote..etc. Pick something you trust and store extra copies of EVERYTHING - even if you have to photograph it with your phone because you don't have access to a scanner. Just in case. 

Okay - I love my DSLR, but let's be real. We're travelling for 6 weeks with a baby - we needed to be practical. In addition to our iPhone cameras, we also took our Canon PowerShot D10.
As a waterproof, freezeproof and shockproof camera, it's a pretty sturdy little sucker! Not that we're in the habit of passing our camera off to our baby, but when you're rushing to get things packed/unpacked or whatever the situation, something small, compact and sturdy is necessary. I didn't want to be fussing with lenses or have ANOTHER bag to carry with us. One of us was already in charge of the suitcase and the other in charge of the baby. We didn't have time for extras. 

The flip-side? It really does take nice photos and video too :)

Other items for Baby:
-her FAVOURITE blanket (the one she had been sleeping with every day since she was a baby - it made sleeping in new places every few nights so much easier!)
-Vitamin D drops, Tylenol
-Diapers (I planned on 5 per day and researched before we left for where I could buy more while we were travelling - there was no sense in packing for the entire trip... they took up too much precious space!)
-Swim diapers (because they're pricey and we only needed a few)
-Diaper wipes (don't want to risk an allergic reaction to unfamiliar ones)
-Diaper cream (same reason as the wipes - did research ahead and found where I could buy more)
-Norwex Face cloths (2) - though don't buy them from Amazon, but them from a Norwex sales person instead (for guarantees, etc).
-nail clippers (we could have used ours, but with some times it's just easier to use hers with the over-sized handle!)
-onesies x5
-sleepers x3 (2 lighter-weight and 1 fleece) - we could use these on cold days and for sleeping
-pants x2
-fleece jacket
-UV Hat with tie (so she couldn't rip it off! Banz is a popular brand)
-socks x3 (she was a barefoot babe on hot days!)

Other items for us: (okay, so I won't include our whole packing list... but some of our must haves that we've learned about along the way...)

For Her:
-make sure all of your clothes MATCH - then it makes it easier to mix and match as you go and you don't look like you're wearing the same thing all the time
-neutral coloured scarf (great for when it's cooler - like on the plane! - or for dressing up an outfit)
-8-in-1 dress (sounds crazy - but super easy to change up!)
-foldable travel hat (they can be quite stylish!)
-Travel Flat-iron
-try to double-up items, for instance pack swim shorts that you can wear as regular shorts

For Him:
-one dressy shirt
-sports shirts (wicked away sweat, fast drying when washed)

The rest...
-a few various sizes of Ziploc bags (for food.. or to double as a plug - when half-filled with water - in a hotel shower when your baby needs a bath and there's only a shower!)
-small packages of laundry soap (Tip - washing clothes in hotel rooms is a breeze - just make sure to use those extra hotel towels. Lay your wet clothes on the towel and roll it up to soak up extra water. Clothes dry much faster! It will also save you some $$ if you don't need a laundry mat)
-ear plugs/eye covers for noisy hotel rooms/planes (though if it's your kid making the noise....)

Things we did not pack...
-a travel crib - we requested that all of the places provide us with one. Only one place wanted to charge us more, and when we refused they ended up providing it complimentary when we arrived anyway. On some occasions Baby K slept in bed with us, other times we used extra blankets and made her a bed on the floor. This was just one more thing we didn't have to haul around with us! Having her special blanket along really helped.

Things we wished we packed...
-an umbrella (good for rainy days and hot, sunny days!)
-an air freshner for our luggage (after 6 weeks my clothes being packed with my husband's were not the freshest smelling!)
-UV swim shirt instead of a swimsuit (that way I could leave her in a regular diaper until we were going swimming and switch her out at the last moment)

Things we wished we hadn't packed...
-burp cloths (see Muslin Swaddle Cloths!) 

DISCLAIMER - I was NOT paid to endorse any of these products. We purchased them (or family and friends kindly let us borrow theirs that they had purchased). These opinions are my own based upon my family's experiences with them. However if any of the companies I mentioned ever stumble across this blog and wish to hook us up with some "testers", it wouldn't hurt my feelings ;)

Curious about more travel tips? Check out the rest of my series!

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Creativity that makes me smile :)

I love seeing others' creativity in action. It inspires me and leaves me wondering: what can I do?

Love this idea!

Everything About These Pictures of a Tiny Adventurous Lego Photographer is Awesome

The traveller in me loves this one...

And this one...