October 17, 2016

Flying With A Baby: Tips, Tricks & Hot Toddies

Flying with a baby isn't easy. But it's not impossible.

Becoming a parent doesn't mean that you stop being who you are and stop doing what you love. Yes, finances change with having children. Yes, interests and lifestyles will change, too. But if you make travel a priority and budget accordingly, it's still possible - even if you have to spend more time prepping and jump through more hoops to accomplish it!

So if you're a wanderlustin' mama like me and looking for some practical tips on preparing for a transatlantic flight with an infant, read on. And for those blessedly kid-free readers of mine (no, I don't envy you one bit... okay, maybe sometimes), read on for some tongue-in-cheek entertainment, a preview of your potential future, or maybe just a little chuckle at the expense of all us mamas and papas wanting to take our babies all over the world. Just show us some grace - or buy us a beer - when you see us struggling with all the baby gear in transit!

Read More: Our Transatlantic Flight with an 8 Month Old

Not pictured: Patience & a bottle of rum
1. Pack Your Patience
You can forget the carefree days of traveling sans infant: cute outfit, a neck pillow, a good book, and the enjoyment of the on-board entertainment. Pack your big girl panties because things are going to get real. Like, trying to figure out how to change a blow-out diaper in an airplane bathroom kind of real. Be mentally prepared for the most stressful experience of your life. Expect something to spill at the most inopportune time. Resign yourself to the fact that your daughter will fall asleep on you just in time for you to need to use the bathroom. Like I said, flying with a baby is not easy. But your reaction to the stressful situation can make or break it and influence the reaction of your fellow passengers.

And if it doesn't turn out as bad as you feared, well, then party like it's going out of style! Which for us parents usually means a hot toddy at the end of a long day.

Tip: For shorter flights, try to arrange the flight times to occur around or during baby's nap times. Be prepared for annoyed looks from some passengers. They obviously have never, ever been a crying baby even once in their life, and never, ever gave their mother a single moment of annoyance or stress. (Insert massive eye roll.) ...Oh, and if you're a nursing mom and a bit shy about nursing in public (like me), you'll want to snag a window seat. I had a window seat in the back row, and it was perfect for privacy and comfort.

2. Make a Plan
Before I even drew up a packing list for our trip, I created a battle plan for getting to, through, and out of the airport. I'm not even joking (you can blame my A-type personality), but it did help me make sure that I purchased some much needed essentials and had a plan for what big ticket items (stroller, pack n play, etc) we brought versus borrowed at our destination.

  • Arrive Early: Do not underestimate how much extra time you need. The extra baby gear, an unexpected dirty diaper, and a hundred thousand other things can eat up so much more time than you originally plan. For international flights, arrive at least 2.5 hours prior to your flight departure.
  • Baby Carrier: I used a cheap Infantino carrier, but I would recommend investing in something more comfortable if you plan to wear baby consistently. This, however, worked just fine for in the airport and for up to an hour on various excursions. Wear baby while going through security, if allowed, and definitely wear the baby while boarding the plane - having your hands free as much as possible is essential!
  • Carseat / Stroller: We have a Graco travel set in which the infant car seat latches directly onto the stroller, and we decided to gate check both items so that we could use them in the airport as we waited to board. We used the Gate Check Pro travel bags to make sure that our stroller and car seat didn't get overly dirty, and we were pleased with how the bags withstood the rough handling. No ripped seams or tearing. While it is not padded and will not guarantee that your items won't be broken, we were thankful that our baby's car seat was not dirtied as badly as our suitcase.
  • Diaper Bag vs Back Pack: Maneuvering a plane with an infant is hard enough without having to balance a diaper bag on one shoulder. Even if only for the trip, consider using a backpack as a diaper bag. It was so much easier for me to have it strapped onto my back versus using a diaper bag with just the typical "purse strap" on it. 
  • Entertainment: Babies, especially those older than two months, can get bored just like us. Make sure you pack favorite toys and books. Debut a new item on each leg of the trip to pique their interest.
  • Friends: Be extra nice to the stewardesses; they can make your trip so much better! I cannot say enough great things about the on-board experience with IcelandAir. On two of our flights, they arranged for us to have the row to ourselves, and even on the full flights, they were always handy with extra pillows, blankets, and a comforting smile when baby was screaming her sleep-deprived little head off.
  • Go Light on Packing: In years past, Danny and I would each have a huge roller suitcase with maybe a couple of backpacks on top of a camera bag and purse. We're more practical now that we have to balance all the cumbersome baby gear. We used one roller suitcase, one diaper bag, and one camera bag. That was it. I tried to use a capsule wardrobe approach for our clothes and generally feel that we were much more efficient with our packing on this trip than on any other.
These are now my "ABCs" of baby travel, but will remain a work in progress. My daughter was eight months old and already cruising around furniture in terms of mobility when we traveled, so you may need to tweak this list based on your child's age and development level.

Tip: Make sure your diaper bag contains an extra shirt for yourself and hubby in addition to spare outfit(s) for the baby. You never know when a bottle is going to end up all over you!

Gelato is a great end goal.
3. Remember the End Goal
The five stages of flying with a baby are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Oh, wait, those are the five stages of grief. Well, it's pretty much the same thing!
  • Denial: It can't be but so bad. She'll fall asleep eventually. ...right?
  • Anger: Why won't you stop screaming?!?! Do you think you're the only one on this plane? MAN! Why the heck did we think it would be FUN to fly to freaking EUROPE with a BABY!!!
  • Bargaining: Honey... sweet pea... if you just stop crying and go to sleep, mommy will buy you the biggest, most expensive toy in the whole wide world as soon as we get there. I promise!
  • Depression: I am never traveling anywhere again.
  • Acceptance: Well, at least this'll all be over in just a few hours.

All good things come to an end. And so do bad things. So even if the worst case scenario pans out, just remember that you will reach your destination in just a few (long... very long) hours and be off that wretched plane with the last remaining shreds of your sanity and dignity. Then you'll be facing the next big adventure: sleeping with a jet-lagged baby.

Yay, parenthood!

Any other tips you'd like to offer?

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October 12, 2016

Sacré-Cœur, Paris: Moneychangers In The Temple

Admittedly, our visit to Paris was not all rainbows and sunshine. First trimester nausea, a hotel in a not-so-great part of town, and sticker shock were just a few reasons why our weekend in the City of Light does not rank among our more favorite travel experiences.

And then there was the Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is just barely 100 years old and commands an amazing view of Paris on the Montemartre, particularly for watching the sun set. From what we could see in our guide books prior to our arrival, there were a few grassy areas where we could spread a blanket and enjoy a romantic evening with a picnic dinner.

This Montmartre door
had eyes.
It's really too bad that reality didn't match our expectations.

First of all, the climb to the top was unpleasant, and I'm not referring to the incline. There were hordes of tourists all trying to do the same thing we were, and to compound the problem, there were what I could only describe as gangs of young men aggressively hawking their wares. And by hawking, I should say harassing, verbally assaulting, and intimidating anyone they singled out. They attempted to forcibly put a bracelet on my friend's arm, then stormed after her shouting and screaming for her to buy their trinket when she refused. He chased us up the final set of steps to the Sacré-Cœur, and it wasn't until the crowds closed behind us that we finally were free. It was angering and also alarming.

Secondly, there was the atmosphere of the Sacré-Cœur itself. My oh my, it is a beautiful building! But... the inside of the basilica felt more like a market than a church. There were machines selling commemorative stamped coins strategically spaced throughout the structure. Despite the signs to keep quiet and to take no photos, it was noisy and full of flash photography. It was a far cry from our experience in the Notre-Dame, which despite the hundreds of tourists lined up to view it, had a more solemn and spiritual feel.

But that is just my opinion! And despite the downsides, I am glad that we experienced it for ourselves.

View of Paris (and the hordes) from the Sacré-Cœur.

Have you visited the Sacré-Cœur Basilica?


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Dear Travel Blogger, Enough With The Politics

Dear Travel Blogger,

Enough with the politics. Please.

I say this with as much respect as can possibly be mustered in a political season revved to a frenzied pitch with candidates - on both sides - who are so unqualified that I can't quite figure out how they received their respective nominations.

Between the radio spots, the newspaper headlines, and the television coverage, I am beyond sick of the election season. Coming from a self-described political junkie, that's saying a lot.

So I try to escape with the things that I love. Namely, travel blogs and Instagram feeds full of exotic views. Oh, and kittens! Everybody loves cute kittens.

Paul Revere agrees.
Well, you can imagine the look of consternation and dismay on my face when I discovered that rather than featuring sunset beach photos, "top ten" travel lists, or even just a quick shout-out to a local coffee shop you discovered, your social media was clogged full of politically-charged tweets, links to registering to vote as an expat (from websites that were decidedly in favor of a certain candidate), and other posts that made it quite clear to which side of the aisle you are loyal.

For the love of all things travel, keep politics out of it! 

I get it. You're passionate about your beliefs. So am I. But people don't follow my blog for my political beliefs. Nor do I follow your travel blog for anything other than travel-related topics. On the rare occasion I've hinted at politics, such as when I outlined my reasons for why travel boycotts are not unethical in and of themselves, it has been within the context of travel and travel alone. I do not endorse candidates on my blog. I do not re-tweet criticisms of one candidate versus the other on my social media. I do not engage in politically-charged discussions with any avenue attached to my travel blog. That's what personal accounts are meant for.

There's an old saying that one should never discuss politics or religion in the workplace. I would assert that if you are purporting to be anything but a political blog, it's best to keep politics out of it. Completely.

Why? Because through regular reading of your blog, I feel in many ways that I've come to know you. You've become the imaginary friend of my childhood that's not so imaginary and does way more cool things. I love seeing the new places you've discovered, the travel obstacles you've mastered, and the other personal tidbits of your life that you've shared through your blog. I've come to really like keeping up with your life and vicariously living through your travels. And I don't want politics to tarnish that, whether we're on the same side of issues or not.

Now I'd love to see more photos from your last trip abroad!


Someone Who Reads Your Blog

P.S. I feel the same way about movie stars, prolific authors, and other non-political celebrities who feel as though they must use their celebrity status to influence the vote towards one candidate, party, or platform versus another, but as this is a travel blog and not a celebrity tabloid, my comments are directed to the travel sector. :)

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsytravels) on


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October 10, 2016

A Tale of Two Babies: A Transatlantic Gauntlet

"... it was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

So that might be a slightly dramatic way to sum up a transatlantic trip with a baby encompassing 8,656 miles, 27 total hours in the airport, 10 total hours in the car, one lost stroller, three new teeth, 17 sleepless nights, and countless liters of consumed hefeweizen to maintain sanity, but that's just how I roll, okay?

Seriously, though, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Flying with a baby is not easy. But it's not impossible either, and with the right preparations, you can at least ensure that your marriage survives unscathed even if your eardrums don't.

Read More: Tips on traveling with a baby

To be fair, it actually wasn't as horrible as I expected. Granted, I had envisioned an inconsolable, wailing child for every single minute of the 19 hours in the air, but that only turned out to be true for about five of those hours. Okay, so maybe it was more like six (or seven?), but my therapist said I shouldn't keep focusing on the bad parts.

Baby Gypsy did extremely well on the flight from Washington D.C. to Reykjavik. No crying during the take-off (nor during the landing later). We had three seats to ourselves, and we managed to soothe her to sleep fairly quickly. I even dozed a little, too. As we landed in a sunny, but briskly cool Reykjavik airport, I even dared to think, Hey, flying with a baby isn't that bad after all.

You can see where this is going already. I obviously jinxed it.

As our flight from Reykjavik to Frankfurt was delayed by over an hour, the native grew increasingly restless. Increasingly sleepy. Increasingly angry. That flight will be forever ingrained in my memory as the nightmare flight. It was like our little Baby Jekyll turned into little Baby Hyde. She screamed for almost the entire four hour flight. Joking aside, I have never felt so ineffective or defeated as a mother than during that flight. There was nothing I could do for her, and to be honest, I kind of felt like screaming, too. I just wanted to get to our destination and pass out as soon as possible.

But alas, our transit woes did not cease upon touchdown at Frankfurt. IcelandAir had the best, most friendly, most understanding, and most attractive stewardesses and service on board the flight. I've never been so impressed by men and women taking such pride in their image and work.

The baggage handling side of things? Not so much.

We arrived in Frankfurt an hour later than the original itinerary, harried and scarred from our baby's screams (go figure, she was all smiles as soon as the plane landed), and waited around to grab our one checked suitcase, the stroller, and the car seat. We waited. And waited. And waited. Two hours later, we finally figured out that our stroller was not going to make an appearance. So we filed a claim and escaped the airport for the two hour drive home to Dinkelsbühl.

Never one to fail us, the Autobahn made sure to turn the two hour drive to nearly four. Thank you, baustelle. At least, it didn't cost us a missed flight this time.

Fast forward two and a half weeks and the return flights home to the United States were more of the same. More construction on the autobahn, causing us to reroute ourselves through back roads and discovering the scenic Castle Road route through Bavaria and Baden-Würrtemberg. More delays in the airport. More screaming baby time on the flight from Iceland to Washington, D.C.

But you know what?

It. Was. SO. Worth. It.

All that stress during transit was worth it for Baby Gypsy to meet her Great-Grandmother (Oma) for the first time. Worth it to meet Danny's sister Elke for the first time. Worth it to spend seventeen glorious days in a fairy-tale town surrounded by medieval walls, a river, and a moat. Worth it to see the world anew through the eyes of a little one who has so much more yet to see.

So while the thought of getting back on a plane with an infant may give me flashback anxiety for a wee bit longer, it's more than outweighed by all the great memories made.

Proof of fairy-tale town.


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October 06, 2016

The Midnight Ride of Jack Jouett

Listen, my children, and you will hear
Of the midnight ride of -- Jack Jouett?

It's the most famous, unheard-of ride in American history: How the young and handsome Jack Jouett out-rode British dragoons in the dark of night in 1781, covering 40 miles through thickly wooded trails in just over six hours. He successfully warned Thomas Jefferson and members of the Virginia legislature holed up at Monticello with his own shouts of "The British are coming! The British are coming!", thus saving the legislative body from capture in toto.

Talk about bad-ass!

But thanks to Longfellow, most Americans are familiar with Paul Revere's famous ride from Boston to Lexington in 1775, but have never even heard of Jack with the strangely-spelled last name (Jouett: pronounced "Jew-ett") from Virginia whose ride arguably played a bigger role and had a larger impact on the outcome of the American Revolution than his northern counterpart.

But Monticello wants to change all that with their annual "British Invasion Days," which debuted this year with a reenactment of Jack Jouett's ride, the arrival of British cavalry, musket and cannon demonstrations, and a walk-through of a militia camp - all hosted on the beautiful and historic grounds of Thomas Jefferson's home.

For just $15 per adult (or $25 if you'd like to tour the house, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site and well worth the admission), take yourself back to 1781 and learn about Jack Jouett's midnight ride!

Read more details here.

Hearken good people: awhile abide
And hear of stout Jack Jouett's ride;
How he rushed his steed, nor stopped nor stayed
Till he warned the people of Tarleton's raid.

The moment his warning note was rehearsed
The State Assembly was quickly dispersed.
In their haste to escape, they did not stop
Until they had crossed the mountain top.
And upon the other side come down.
To resume their sessions in Staunton Town.

His parting steed he spurred,
In haste to carry the warning
To that greatest statesman of any age,
The Immortal Monticello Sage.

Here goes to thee, Jack Jouett!
Lord keep thy memory green;
You made the greatest ride, sir,
That ever yet was seen.

Travel With Kids Tips:
The visitor center and cafe are located at the bottom of the hill near the parking lot. Currently, there are no options to buy meals on top of the mountain, so be sure you have full bellies before taking the shuttle to Monticello. There are restrooms up top, however. Beyond standing in a bathroom stall, there is no privacy for nursing mothers unless you fancy wandering into the woods and sitting beneath a tree. Strollers are permitted in the house, but if you're visiting on a busy day, a staff member would be more than willing to push it through to the back of the house where you can collect it upon exiting.

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October 04, 2016

Life Lately

So.... about my absence. Can we just pretend it never happened?!

It's been over three weeks since our return from our first overseas adventure as a family of three. In many ways I am still processing that trip and adjusting to being back from it. Life lately has been intense! And unfortunately, blogging has been the unintended victim of a busy life. So here is a brief update on all the things that have kept me from blogging as regularly.

Gotta love a great onion-dome tower!
What a blast. Baby Gypsy was introduced to Danny's Oma, sister, cousins, uncle, and family friends, and we spent most of our trip simply living like Bavarians in the middle of a medieval walled city. We gorged ourselves on weißwurst, drank as much beer as possible, and promenaded around the cobblestoned streets every day. We ventured to one castle, saw half a dozen more en route to Regensburg, and met the one and only Swags for lunch and boutique cupcakes (which Baby Gypsy managed to swipe when I wasn't paying attention)! And in case you were wondering, Swags is just as gregarious, hilarious, and spontaneous in real life as she seems to be from her blog. I'm looking forward to having a baby-free winefest with her in the future. It will happen!

My "Real Job"
As much as I love blogging, although my sporadic presence here over the last few months may state otherwise, it doesn't pay the bills, and my "real job" has taken up a lot of my time, particularly since our return from Europe. The more I work, the more we have for a house and travel. But the more I work, the less time I have to write about it! It's a vicious cycle, especially with a very active and almost walking 9 month old in the house, but I love my job so I perceive the busyness as good job security.

Putting Down Roots
So we're buying a house! It's under construction by a local father-son craftsmen team, and I could not be more pleased with the quality nor more impressed by the speed of the construction. When I say father-son team, I literally mean that it's being built by just the father and son, sans the contractors for the foundation, plumbing, and electrical. All the framing, roofing, interior work, flooring - all of that - are being done by just two people. The pride in their work make it worth the wait, but we hope to be in our new place by Christmas! Cue the feverish Pinterest searches for how the heck to decorate it!

Social Media
Even when I have no time to blog, I keep a steady presence on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (in that order), so please follow me there if you aren't already. 

A photo posted by Thrifty Gypsy's Travels (@thriftygypsytravels) on

So... how's your life lately?!