Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Traveling with a tot

Travel tip #1 - Give your toddler plenty of piping hot, complimentary coffee. This will ensure they do not sleep a wink on the plane, no matter how much they need a nap.
I was still pregnant with Alice when the last Senge family reunion was being planned. As a not-even-first-time mom, I was way too nervous and unambitious to commit to flying with a three-month old. I was very grateful that they all graciously accommodated my nerves by choosing a location within driving distance for us. 

As we were planning our trip to Colorado over these last months, I realized how foolish I'd been to avoid flying with an infant who sleeps so much and can be soothed and silenced with cuddle naps and marathon breast-feeding sessions. What an easy flight that could have been! Now that I'm more seasoned, I think I'd be much more inclined to consider flying with a littler baby. I don't think I'd go out of my way to plan a plane trip, but I'd certainly consider any opportunity that presented itself. But ask me again, next time I'm in that position...

Anyway, this time, I was on the hunt for any tips and products that would be helpful on our trip and I thought I'd share a few things that worked for us. 

First of all, we opted to buy a plane seat for Alice. Though she is under two and allowed to travel on our laps, we felt it was safer for her to have her own seat and the protection and familiarity of her carseat. Plus, she doesn't really sit still or cuddle, so I'm pretty sure we would have all been miserable with her on our laps. Since we were renting a car, we also felt better about having our trusty Britax Roundabout during the trip, instead of a rental seat.

There are lots of gadgets to make it easier to maneuver your carseat through the airport. The GoGo Babyz Travelmate is basically a dolly that turns your carseat into a stroller. Kind of nifty but kind of pricey (anywhere from $72-90) and still another thing to pack and keep track of on the other end of your flight. 

We also looked at this popular option that lets you fasten your carseat to your suitcase, and then fasten your kid in the carseat and push the whole contraption like a stroller. Though the photo shows a pretty hefty carseat like ours, we were really skeptical that any of our suitcases would be able to handle the 40+ pounds of carseat and kid without breaking. One of the reviewers mentioned that they were able to strap their carseat to their suitcase with a couple of easily obtained hardware pieces for less than the $15 cost of this item. Jon did some experimenting and was able to secure the seat to our little roll-aboard using only the straps already included/attached to the carseat. We certainly couldn't transport Alice in that getup but it at least eliminated the need to carry the carseat by hand.

We didn't want to pay the extra $$ for an SUV on the trip, so we knew we'd have cargo space limitations with a full-size car. Our stroller is too big to share a trunk with a suitcase, and I didn't want to risk damaging or losing it on the plane, so we invested in a cheap umbrella. After our research and test-driving, we were pretty sold on our choice but I have to say, halfway through that 3-mile walk, Jon and I were both wishing for that super-smooth Maclaren. I don't think it's entirely fair to judge the stroller on such a strenuous inauguration, I think it will be just fine for light use and travel. Not totally sure about our future Disney World vacation though.

We know Pack 'N Plays are ubiquitous; we have one and know that almost anywhere we go will have one as well. But it hasn't been the dependable lifesaver we were expecting. Alice doesn't seem to sleep great in them, our AngelCare monitor doesn't work well in them, and they can be noisy enough to keep us all from sleeping soundly. And they aren't easy enough to transport and set up to make them indispensable, in my opinion. I decided to try out something I kept seeing pop up around the internet and baby catalogs, enter the KidCo PeaPod.

PeaPod product image.
Basically a collapsible pup tent with an inflatable air mattress, the PeaPod comes in a few different varieties ranging from super light-weight small and basic, to a bit bigger with more bells and whistles. I thought it looked ultra-portable, great for suitcase travel and unpredictable or small sleeping conditions, handy to take in the car for naps at someone else's house, or the beach or park. I was hoping it would be a great investment for this trip, future travel, and other general visiting. 

We ordered ours only a couple of weeks before our trip and I was afraid we wouldn't be able to get Alice acclimated in time. We set it up as soon as we got it and she and the cats checked it out. I planned to introduce it during her weekend and daytime naps to see how she liked it. Our first couple of tries were reminiscent of getting the cats into their carrier and involved hasty zipping and lots of crying. Alice often has a couple of false starts to her naps involving diaper changes, and it got to the point where I could get her in the PeaPod once but not twice. We also tried it out during our weekend visit to Jon's parents house before our trip, where Alice rested reluctantly but didn't sleep. I suspect that had more to do with her cousins playing with awesome toys right outside her room. In any case, I was getting a little worried that we'd be out of luck on our trip, with no Plan B. We resorted to leaving it set up during the day and encouraging her to play in it to develop familiarity and good associations.

Our efforts must have been enough because the PeaPod worked like a charm on the trip. As soon as we got settled at the inn, we put Alice down for a rest. We set up the PeaPod, zipped her up and retired to the next room for some wine and conversation. It probably helped that she was tired from our day of travel, but Alice didn't complain at all and took a great nap. Bedtime was flawless and she didn't wake at all in the night. The only close call we had was when the AngelCare sensor pad came unplugged and started beeping. She stirred but didn't fully wake up or cry.

In her circus jammies, playing in her PeaPod bed.
We packed the PeaPod for our day trip to Grandpa's house, and Alice took a great nap in another room while we all chatted away. My cousin had thoughtfully set up her spare Pack 'N Play at her house so Alice could nap after baby gymnastics. We gave that a try, but Alice cried and cried and cried and cried, which always breaks my heart and I didn't want her to wake up her sweetly sleeping cousins. We grabbed the PeaPod out of the car, popped it open, and Alice snuggled right in and had a great nap. We were sold. 

When we got to my aunt's house, she had a room all set up for Alice. She's also a grandmother, so had everything already on hand. But Jon felt bad about sticking Alice in a strange room by herself all night, so we set up the PeaPod in our room instead. She slept great there as well, and never woke up when we came to bed. On the morning we left, I got up at 4am and Jon was right behind. We figured we'd rouse Alice as we got dressed and finished packing up to leave, walking right past her bed and making a ruckus in our suitcase not 2 feet away. She was so sound asleep we finally had to wake her so we could get her dressed and fed in out the door. Double sold. I'm pretty sure that would have never happened if she was in a Pack 'N Play. 

We found a good price on the basic "103" model at Amazon, so we opted for that. It is a few inches bigger and more robust than the "Lite" model but not as big as the "Plus." Alice might appreciate a little more room, which would probably give us a little more mileage, but this size is perfectly serviceable. Here's what we like:

1. Super easy set-up:  The whole thing springs right open. It's maybe even a little TOO easy - you really should keep a firm hand on it and keep stray kids and pets out of striking range. 

2. Works great with AngelCare monitor: We like that it's easy to use with the AngelCare, where Pack 'N Plays are not. With the PeaPod, you can set the AngelCare right on the floor so you don't have to rig up a stable base like with the P 'N P, and the inflatable mattress is more forgiving than the Pack 'N Play pad. 

3. Super compact for travel: The 14" diameter storage bag fits perfectly into our roll-aboard suitcase, making it easy to carry on the plane so you don't have risk losing it with your checked bag. My philosophy is to carry on anything and everything that can't be purchased in a jiffy at your destination. 

The only improvement I'd suggest for the PeaPod is custom-fit sheets. There is a zippered compartment for the air mattress so you don't need a sheet, which would be nice for the park or beach or other outdoor environment. Alice got too sweaty sleeping on just the nylon, and it was more inviting for her with a sheet, so we put the mattress inside the tent area. Pack 'N Play sheets don't fit so we used a regular crib sheet which wasn't snug. I think I'll make some fitted sheets especially for it, which I'd definitely recommend for a younger infant, but it would be nice if custom sheets were available from the company.

I wish I'd been using the PeaPod since Alice was much younger but I'm glad we discovered it now. I'd certainly use it for a swaddled infant, either with a fitted sheet or with the mattress in the separate compartment, and definitely with the AngelCare. Though Alice wasn't crazy about it before we left, I think our pre-travel practice made it familiar and secure enough to be comforting in all the new environments she encountered. I know kids love cozy little private spaces, and I imagine Alice will only get more attached to it as she gets older. I think we'll just have to pull it out for an occasional "special treat" so she doesn't forget all about it.

Those were our only revelations for our inaugural baby travel. Otherwise, we just made sure to plan ahead, be prepared, give ourselves plenty of time for every activity, and give the little tyrant whatever she wanted to keep her from throwing tantrums and practicing her newly developed screaming and shouting. Which, for the record, did NOT include hot coffee (see above photo) - just the cup that I had emptied. I always give her my empty sample cups of coffee at the grocery store and I love that they are perfectly baby-sized. 

Do you have any perfectly baby-sized travel tips? Any awesome or awful products to share? Have you taken any great (or horrific) trips with your wee ones? 


  1. You aren't the first to rave about the Pea Pod. It looks awesome! We have used pack n plays with both kids and they both seem to do just fine. But, things have been tricky since Charlie is bigger. He is a BIG 2 year old and way to old to sleep in a confined kind of space. When we travel or visit family, we usually start him sleeping in whatever bed we (my husband and I) will be in, and then when its time for us to go to sleep we move him to the floor. He transfers fine and continues to sleep soundly. We'll keep that up until it fails us, I suppose.

    I have yet to fly with two kids, and I don't think I will for some time. But if I'm every outnumbered and by myself with the two, I'll splurge for 2 seats. A squirming/lap sitting child is no fun!

    One thing I have found to come in handy on trips is a humidifier. We went to Tahoe last winter without one and Charlie picked up a dry hack from the altitude and crisp air. Bad sleeping resulted. We went to Vegas to visit family just the other weekend and it happened again, this time to both kids. The humidifier might be a bulky item, but it comes in handy when you go from one climate to another. Plus is makes for great "white noise" while everyone sleeps in one room.

  2. That's a great tip about the humidifier! I wonder if there's some sort of travel-size version...

    I am so envious of parents (like you!) who have such sound sleepers. Maybe Alice will grow into that? She sleeps great in HER bed, but so far, she doesn't fall asleep on the floor and we can definitely forget about transferring her from anything to anything else... I can dream, though!

  3. Great tips Erin! Thank you. I too was so worried about traveling with a tiny baby but now realize how easy it would be. We took a flight with jack at 5 months and he just breastfed when he started getting cranky. So now I'm dreading our next flight when he's a toddler and I don't have that human pacifier. :)


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