So, to kick off my traveling with baby advice, I think it makes most sense to discuss a couple of the basic things you will need for getting your baby or toddler around. The two key items to consider, which despite appearances are not at all redundant, are a travel stroller and a baby carrier.
When we were in our pre-baby planning stages and thinking of maximum convenience, we decided to register for a travel system that would allow us to seamlessly move from car to stroller without having to unstrap our infant. It only took one trip with that stroller to realize that the standard for the maximum convenience at home is not the same as the standard for maximum convenience abroad. After weighing out the pros and cons, we decided that it would be to our benefit to invest in a travel stroller. Now, I did a lot of research when we were in search of our first travel stroller. Our daughter was 5 months old and we were headed to Spain and planning to go from plane to train to car to train to train to plane. I took into account our various needs, and made a must-have list that basically consisted of: light weight, small footprint, easy to collapse/open, large durable wheels (e.g. cobblestone shock-proof), full recline, large canopy/sun cover. Affordability also factored a bit into our decision, though in the end, we went for what I considered to be a mid-priced option (and the more expensive of the two final contenders): UPPAbaby G-Luxe.
I have such a deep love for the orange “Ani” G-Luxe that we bought. It ticked every box on my list and then some. In addition to the aforementioned requirements, it also had a leg rest that could be put up or down, which was so helpful to trying to get our little one to sleep on the go. It’s bright color was an easy reminder that we were supposed to be relaxing and enjoying ourselves on vacation. It was not the lightest of strollers, but it was light enough and easy enough to carry that we walked up the steps to Girona Cathedral (made more famous as a filming location for Game of Thrones) with minimal sweat (it was August in Spain, after all, so sweat would be inevitable in any event).
You may be questioning why I am referring to this beloved stroller in the past-tense. Well, sadly, after only about a year of travel (though making it to no less than 9 countries), it met with an untimely demise at the hands of Qatar Airways. You see, while most every airline allows you to gate-check your stroller and pick it up at your layover location, as far as I can tell, the country of Qatar does not allow for one to use their own strollers during a layover. Even if your layover is a 22 or 23 hour layover whereby you have a hotel booked and are planning to visit in the capital of Doha for a day, you must check your stroller to your final destination. The airport has kindly thought of providing convenience strollers for use in the airport, but the same convenience is not afforded to those leaving the airport for any time (another subject I will delve more into in some later post).
So, in the 23 hours that our beautiful little UPPAbaby was in the hands of Qatar Airlines, despite the protective travel bag that had served us well on so many other journey, our stroller was mangled to the point that it almost seemed actively so. Of course, just after this incident, I discovered that UPPAbaby actually has its own special travel bag that comes with a warranty that ensures replacement in the event of airline damage (queue Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”).
It took me quite a bit of time to get over the loss of this stroller that had served us so well (and my husband might argue that the fact that I haven’t come to terms enough to throw away the broken stroller yet is a sign that I still haven’t yet moved on), but within a few months, our next trip was nearly upon us and we had a decision to make. Would we replace the Uppababy with an identical stroller (and invest in the warranty-packed travel bag this time)? Or would we use this as an opportunity to try something new?
The only kind of stroller that I felt could tempt me from my precious UPPAbaby would be one that could fold down to carry-on size to protect my fragile heart from the selfsame disaster. Adding this criteria to the search, the stroller that came back as the strongest contender against our old standby was the BABYZEN Yoyo. There were some clear detractors to the Yoyo, from price (it is more than twice the cost of the UPPAbaby, which is no cheapo) and smaller (and less cobblestone-proof) wheels, to less sun-cover and no footrest. Despite these detractors, the Yoyo is IATA-compliant as a carry-on item. It is also several pounds lighter and significantly less bulky to carry. Lastly, it has the capability (with purchase of the right attachments) to convert into a bassinet-style stroller that is equally collapsible and could prove helpful should we ever decide to have another little one.
I think you can figure out where this is going…
In the end, though I thought the likelihood of another G-Luxe being chewed up and spit out by an airline was quite low, I decided that I could not bear the thought of seeing another beloved stroller mangled. My husband and I split the cost (we still have separate bank accounts despite being married for several years now) and splurge-vested in the BABYZEN Yoyo. The Yoyo has only been our companion for a short while, but so far it has lived up to all expectations (despite being a bit sticky on the open and closure from time to time).
Regardless of which stroller you end up with for travel, I highly recommend getting some kind of protective cover for it. While the cover that we used (similar style of which can be found here) did not ultimately prevent our UPPAbaby’s untimely demise, it did prevent it from getting all nasty and dirty during its many other transits. Please also do not make the same mistake as me, and if you buy a stroller that offers its own travel bag with any kind of travel warranty, definitely spend the extra bucks on the brand-specific bag and give yourself the extra insurance policy in the event that it comes back unexpectedly mangled.
I feel like baby carriers used to have a bit of a bad rep. They seemed to be either items that were only for earthy, crunchy, “I want to wear my baby in a sling like nature meant me to” types, or for the “I hike and therefore I wear my child in a hiking-friendly, front-pack” type. Over more recent years, however, Moms and Dads of all walks of life have gradually become to realize that anything that allows one to carry a baby, be hands-free and also potentially aid in sleeping is a true godsend to parenting. As such, travel and baby carriers truly go together like *N and Sync.
We generally use the ErgoBaby carrier, which we have found really safe, secure and convenient for each of us to wear. The recommendation on this carrier initially came from my cousin’s wife, and given that she is both a mom and a math teacher that utilized all the research and analytical skills that go into both of those, I happily took her recommendation without any further research myself – and have never looked back or regretted this.
Regardless of brand, for travel, I would personally recommend a buckle-type carrier to a wrap or sling because of the freedom of movement that it gives you. I am also never trusting enough of the wraps/slings, no matter how tight or safe they are, to go completely hands-free with them, so it would be a huge impediment to me to be wearing one and trying to maneuver through an airport or down a jet bridge with one hand under my slung baby’s bottom.
Interesting fact: in the US, you can wear your baby in a carrier through TSA security metal detectors (provided you don’t have some odd carrier that has metal in it). When traveling alone with my daughter, I have found it most helpful to wear her and put the carryon bag(s) on the stroller until I am ready to gate check the stroller at the gate. The carrier also makes for the greatest ease when boarding and trying to get bags situated in overhead and under the seat spaces.
Another interesting fact: many other countries do not allow you to wear your baby in a carrier through security. Each country has its own rules, some of which are lax on things like shoes, and others of which will make you barely stop short of putting your baby through the X-ray belt. In one foreign airport, I had to take off my daughter’s soft slippers and also take the binkie out of her mouth – the latter of which did not go over very well. While I don’t enjoy hearing my daughter wail, I do sometimes take dark joy how much it bothers others – especially in circumstances whereby it could have been prevented if not for bureaucratic idiocy.
You can, of course, also wear your baby in a carrier throughout the flight; however I will caution that for some inexplicable reason, the airlines will make you take the baby out of the carrier for take-off and landing. This is some kind of regulation that truly makes no sense to me. I cannot hold a laptop because there is a fear that the jostling of take-off and landing may cause it to fly out of my hands, but I MUST hold my baby. This can be especially irritating when on perfectly timed bedtime or naptime flight, when you have to risk waking your little one just to satisfy an asinine air FAA rule (note, this is an actual FAA mandate, so don’t get mad at your flight attendants – it isn’t even their direct employer’s rule).
Generally speaking, however, you can get around this with an ergo-baby style carrier by taking at least one of your shoulders out of the carrier (it only takes once or twice to learn the snake-like shimmy that it takes to quietly and subtly adjust in your confining seat without waking the little one). Then once take-off has started, you can readjust again and get everything re-fastened.
While carriers are a staple item for ease of plane travel, they are also a key component to getting around on land. But since this post has gone on for quite a bit longer than planned, I’ll save my on-the-ground carrier recommendations for another time…