Sunday, April 10, 2011

Travel Gear with kids -- Some of my favourite things

Having flown on my more flights than I can remember with my kids, and having experimented with several different kidcentric travel gear, I've complied a list of some of my favourite things (which will be updated from time to time). These are:

Breastfeeding in public can be challenging at times, breastfeeding in a cramped airplane can be almost impossible. I loved my hooter hider to provide me the desired privacy in a public space and to focus my baby's attention on eating. The hooter hider also doubles as a blanket and burp cloth, so that means less carry-on stuff for you.

Car Seat
Did you know that you can bring your car seat on the plane, strap it into a seat and put baby/toddler into it? Just make sure that your car seat states: This child restraint system conform to all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards" OR "THIS RESTRAINT IS CERTIFIED FOR USE IN MOTOR VEHICLES AND AIRCRAFT"I'll save my many reasons on why a car seat for planes are a necessity for another blog, however, I'll leave you with this tidbit -- snug car seat +  the sound of an engine = sleepy baby. Click on the following links to read about car seats on popular Canadian airline companies.

Air Canada: scroll down to their "child restraint policy"
Porter Airlines: Waiting on information
WestJet: they want you to call a 1-800 number first

Most Airlines will not allow you to install a car seat in an exit row, or somewhere the will impede access to the aisle. So, if booking online, be aware of your airlines' restrictions.

I have, in the past, left my car seat behind on short haul flights or when I know we would not be using them on the other end as we'd be relying on public transportation or have car seats waiting for us. However, many organizations, such as the Transport Canada, the US Federal Aviation Administration, and the US Association of Flight Attendants (as well as others) state that the safest place for a child on an airplane is in an approved child restraint. CARES is a buckle system for children between 22 and 40 pounds, made by the same people who make airplane seatbelts. It only weighs 1 pound so is much easier to pack than a car seat. I have not used the CARES restraint yet, but plan to do so on an upcoming flight to France.

Most Canadian Airlines accept the use of CARES. Click on the links above for more information.

OK, so you've decided you are going to bring the car seat on the plane. But now you've go to lug your two kids, strollers, luggage, carry-on AND the car seats!! Just thinking about it makes me tired. Why don't you turn the car seats into strollers and use them to transport your kids around...and you can do this with the GoGo Kidz Travelmate. My oldest son was one of the kids who would sleep anywhere, so we'd often wheel him to the gate in the GoGo Kidz Travelmate, asleep, install the car seat into his airplane seat, asleep, and we'd take off and he'd still be sleeping. Ahhh bliss. We didn't find that the GoGo Kidz Travelmate replaced a stroller once we got to our destination, but they did help with airport travel. The Travelmate is a bit of a pain to assemble and disassemble, but I understand they have made improvements to the newer models.

I do not own a Sit n' Stroll, but did look at it when I was deciding on whether or not to purchase it or the GoGo Kidz Travelmate. One of the reasons I did not get a Sit 'n' Stroll was that it was not available in Canada at the time. What did attract me to the Sit 'n' Stroll is that it's an all -in -one car seat, stroller, dining booster seat.

My Maclren Triumph is my all time favourite stroller for travelling. It has been to London, Cardiff, New York City, Quebec City, Bermuda, Toronto, Turks and Caicos...oh the list goes on. It only weighs about 11 pounds, and has a strap to easily carry the stroller through airports or up and down subway stairs. It folds quickly and can be pushed out of the way in crowded urban restaurants. As it is an umbrella stroller, it is often allowed at most museums. Best part, it is one of the few strollers that you can still gate check. On the downside, it's not that great on cobblestone roads if your baby has just fallen asleep. This was something we learned the hard way in Quebec City, and being new parents, we carried the stroller up and down the streets of Quebec City. It's also not great if you will be travelling to a place where there will be a lot of snow, like my own country in the winter.

My children are 5 and 3 and we're at the stage where we don't bring a stroller with us anymore, but we will bring the Maclaren when travelling. It's not the cumbersome to bring and we find that someone, usually the 5 year old who has spent the whole day running and jumping, gets tired at the end of the day. It's easier on our backs to put him in the stroller and carry our younger and much lighter child.

Baby Bjorn
I loved the Baby Bjorn Active Carrier, my babies loved the Baby Bjorn Active Carrier. My oldest would squeal with delight every time I got it out. I found it was great for train travel, as I could walk up and down the aisles with baby and not kill my back (note: walking up and down an aisle on a train is much easier than on a plane). It's also great if you don't own a good light umbrella stroller and are doing a lot of subway travel where you will have to climb stairs (such as Paris). It's also very good if will be visiting museums or historical sites. While, as mentioned, we love our Maclaren Triumph, we found it wasn't that useful at London Tower. Lots of the sites had narrow stairs to climb, and it was too difficult to bring even an umbrella stroller up them. Hubby and I had to take turns sitting on a bench with our oldest in the stroller, while the other viewed the sites. I wish I had taken the Baby Bjorn, which was in our hotel room, that day.  It's also great if baby protests about cobblestones (see Maclaren Stroller bit). Finally, not ever baby wants to spend 8 hours in a stroller while Mommy and Daddy sight-see. The Baby Bjorn is fabulous when baby wants to be carried for 7 of those 8 hours.

The earbuds that you buy on the plane, or that come with your ipod, are too big for most children. Buy a set of children's headphones. They will fit their head perfectly -- trust me it's no fun to spend the whole plane ride continually adjusting their earphones. Most are volume limiting, so you do not have to worry about your children's prolonged exposure to noise. I own two sets of children's headphones from Cyber Acoustics, and they have worked well for my boys and the abuse they put them through. Be aware that children who have headphones that go over their head will be asked to remove them for take-off and landing (at least on Air Canada and Porter Airlines flights). Children who have earbuds or over the ear headphones will be able to keep them on.

Journal and Crayons
We bring crayons and a journal book for the kids to describe what they have seen while travelling. It's a great way to pass the time on the plane, restaurant or during any down time. It's also a wonderful way to find out what your children found interesting on their trip. Below is an entry for a recent trip to Whistler:

Water Bottles
Travelling is thirsty work, and airplanes are very dehydrating. After the age of 2, you can't bring liquids for your children to drink through security. BUT, you can bring an empty water bottle through security and fill it up from a water fountain on the other side. My favourite water bottles are the Kleen Kanteens as they take you from toddler sippy cup stage to cool kid water bottle stage. They are also incredible durable...our oldest Kleen Kanteens must be about 4 years old now. I recently saw a collapsable water bottle from Vapur. I thought these looked neat as they weigh very little and take up very little room (when empty). I haven't used one yet, but I thought it might be useful to have for travel.

Portable Potty Seat
If you are training your toddler, or are like me and have skinny kids, a portable potty seat is a must (even for regular day to day living). My favourite is the Primo Folding Potty Seat. It's gender neutral, so your second child won't have to use his older sister's Dora the Explorer potty seat. It folds small enough to fit in a handbag, backpack etc.

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