This week’s guest post comes from Deanna, the brilliant blogatrix behind Traveling Monkeys. Since she’s far, far too modest to include a bio herself, I’ve included one for her. Here it is: Deanna has a wicked sense of humor. If you met her in person, you might pass out from the sheer awesomeness of it all. She’s mom to Ninja-baby, whose cuteness warms the brittle lump of coal that is my heart (quote, from Rand: “That child should be in commercials.”) Deanna’s traveled extensively with her little one, and today she’s been kind enough to share her knowledge with us poor schlubs, while even including a few Mad Men and Muppets references. In short? She might just be cooler than me. But don’t get used to this high caliber of writing, kids. Because tomorrow? I’m back.
This is my daughter Maggie, aka Ninja Baby.
Maggie was born in Honolulu, our families are in Maine and Florida and our closest friends are in Washington, DC. By the end of 2010, she will have been to nine states and four countries. You might say she’s traveled a bit, and I might reply “Bork bork bork Swedish Chef? Blah blah blah Ginger?” because I have logged those miles right beside her and consequently, my brain is squishy and addled.
What I have retained through the fog of travel exhaustion are a few things you can do to prepare for a trip with a baby. These are just weird enough to be overlooked, and yet totally essential for improving your peace of mind and enjoyment.
1. Become a squatter.
We have a soft structured Beco baby carrier and a Moby wrap. It is the Ninja Seat of Honor, a secure place for the baby to sit. And when I say sit, I mean the baby sits while I do endless laps around the cabin. The baby will fall asleep and snuggle up on my chest but I usually need to do a few rounds of bounce-walking to get her there. I’ve never had a problem hanging out in the back of a plane with the crew, turbulence permitting, but you need endurance for a flight with a baby. Olympic endurance. Ironman Triathlon endurance. Sting and his wife would look at your required endurance and say “No, thanks.” And you’re going to need energy when you get going on your vacation. Thus, squats and lower back exercises: do them holding the baby, do several reps, and start your new exercise routine weeks before the trip.
2. Call a notary; get a doctor’s note.
As has been extensively documented in this space, the TSA are a bunch of [redacted] [redacted] [do you kiss your mother with that mouth?!]. Their website says that certain quantities of breastmilk, formula, etc. shouldn’t be a problem–emphasis “shouldn’t.” But since you’re in and out of the doctor for well-baby visits anyway, get a quick note while you’re there from your doctor saying you have a medical need for anything you need to bring outside the norm. I did this when I had to transport 6 8oz-bottles of expressed frozen milk on a plane; I was never questioned but if anyone had gotten their knickers in a twist I was ready to throw down with a signed note on medical letterhead.
The next part of this is for parents traveling with a child sans partner: the letter of travel consent. When crossing international borders, having a nice, notarized letter from your partner saying that they know you’re traveling and you have their blessing looks ever so nice for customs agents. Will you be asked for one? Probably not. But it can’t hurt, it could help, and it will only cost you the notary fee and a little time. You can get a template for a letter here and customize it to your needs. Ours makes me feel a bit like Betty Draper, what with my husband magnanimously allowing his wife and child to travel without him and all. Would that I had the matching wardrobe. And Jon Hamm. Sigh.
3. Find a library–and a clinic.
We owe the Cleveland Park branch of the DC Public Library system a debt of gratitude; it was a clean, warm space to let the baby unwind and read a few stories on a very blustery day while we were waiting for her dad to get out of his meeting. Some libraries, like in NYC, are worth visiting regardless; with a kid in tow it’s a fast and cheap way to take a breather, and there’s usually a donation jar if you want to throw a Benjamin–or an Abraham–their way for the trouble.
It should go without saying that you should know where the nearest urgent care clinic is when you travel, but if you don’t have a web-enabled phone you may not be able to look it up on the fly. Write a few addresses down before you leave. On a related note, many thanks to my friend Sam for finding us a clinic and getting directions in the middle of Virginia wine country instead of enjoying his Norton red. I gotta get an iPhone.
4. Don’t bring too many toys.
Counterintuitive, no? But you won’t need them at the airport; terminals are a neat place to explore, as long as you don’t mind wiping off their hands later. For her part, Maggie is pretty happy watching the planes take off.
On the plane, well…if the baby is on your lap, you probably won’t have a lot of room to bust out many toys anyway. On the ground, the newness of your destination is likely going to be enough distraction and if your kid is like mine, you can improvise a toy with a straw and a padded hotel coat hanger.
5. MacGyver your wardrobe.
The dumbest thing I’ve ever done traveling (this year) was pack my iPod in a distant pocket of my diaper bag while flying with Maggie sans husband on a red eye. The baby was stone asleep, as were all my fellow passengers, I didn’t want to risk waking her and there was no way a flight attendant could get to the bag without disturbing others. With no way to reach my earbuds, that was a long five hours of staring at the back of my eyelids in silence. Learn from my mistake and position your necessities in easy-to-reach spots like shirt pockets, armbands, and so on. Nursing moms: wear simple v-neck layers, nursing tank tops, or button-downs for ease and accessibility. Don’t try a nursing cover for the first time on the plane; get the baby used to it home first lest she yank it off in confusion and expose your jumblies to a flight attendant. If you or your partner have them, wear items like cargo pants that hold a diaper and a pack of wipes, which helps with the juggling of stuff in and out of bags.
And lastly, have fun! This is a cool thing you’re doing, giving your kid the gift of travel. Try to stay awake to remember it. Bork bork bork.