Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Air-travel with babies - 10 travel-gear picks

Maybe it's because of the recent birth of the royal baby in England, or maybe it's because some close family members recently had their first baby, but I have had babies on my mind lately. Flying with an infant can be a challenge, but it can also be a lot easier than you might think - if you're lucky, your baby might just eat and sleep their way through the flight. If you're not lucky... well, my mantra for those situations is: "This too shall pass".

Here are 10 travel-gear items that are great when you're traveling with a baby:

1. Pacifier clips & toy straps

Keeping track of all your travel gear is hard enough when you don't have a baby, and with a baby: help is good. A pacifier clip helps keep your baby's soother safe and reasonably clean, and the toy straps can be used to secure various toys to your clothes, a carrier, the baby's stroller, and so on.

2. A diaper bag

A good diaper bag will help you keep your items organized and within easy reach, even in a cramped airplane bathroom. It should also be easy to carry: a backpack model might be just the thing to look for.

3. A portable change pad

Some diaper bags and backpacks include a portable diaper change pad, but if not, it's a good item to pack. Change tables in airport bathrooms and on board might not include any padding at all, and they might also be rather unsanitary!

4. A nursing cover

Breastfeeding can be very convenient when you're traveling: no bottles to clean or formula to heat, and no need for clean water, for example. I'm a big supporter of babies being allowed to eat when and where and how they please - nursing cover or no nursing cover (full babies don't cry as much on board, for one thing). And for those who like using a nursing cover, there are some very nice ones out there.

5. A travel bassinet/bed for your room or the beach

I wish I'd had something like this when my kids were little. A portable bassinet makes it easy to put your baby down safely for a nap anywhere: in a hotel room, at an airport, wherever. And the portable bed with mesh cover is a great idea for the beach: it protects your baby from mosquitoes and the sun!

6. A baby carrier

Baby carriers are awesome when you're on a plane, and everywhere else. They make it easy to carry your baby comfortably, and many babies just love being close and snuggly with mom or dad. Pick the kind you find the most comfortable and easy to use.

7. Travel-friendly baby bottles

If you're not breastfeeding, it really helps to have some travel-friendly baby bottles along. There are many good ones on the market, including several brands with thermos-features, or ways of heating up the formula quickly and easily.

8. Comfortable baby pajamas

Comfortable clothing is a must on a plane, and that goes for babies too. Pick something that is comfortable and easy to change in and out of on board.

9. Fun travel toys

A few well-chosen, easy to bring-along toys can help soothe and entertain your baby. Avoid anything with lots of noise or music, since it will probably end up annoying somebody on board...

10. A bag for wet stuff

Sometimes, you can't avoid little accidents. And just in case you end up with some wet clothes on your trip, a waterproof bag is great to bring along. Of course, you can just use any plastic bag for this purpose, but a washable, reusable bag is not a bad choice either.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Vancouver Aquarium - renovated and still a favourite!

The Vancouver Aquarium has been one of my kids' favourite local destinations since they were babies. My husband and I have had memberships for so many years I don't even know how long it's been, and if I ask my kids on a day off school where they'd like to go, chances are the Aquarium will be mentioned.

Over the last few years, the Aquarium has undergone some major renovations and construction work is still ongoing, though a lot of the facility has now been revealed in its new glory.

There's a new entrance area with a gorgeous display of the Earth, an expanded gift shop, and a brand new cafeteria (still haven't tried that out, since we mostly bring our own snacks for the visit).

Favourite things to do for my children include:

The Pacific octopus habitat.
- Watching the Pacific octopus in its habitat - sometimes this creature is hiding, but often its out and about with all its glorious arms and suckers on display.

- Walking through the tropically warm rainforest exhibit: my kids just LOVE the big parrots, the tortoises, the black and white rays, and the sloth (occasionally visible up in the rafters).

- Observing the sea lions in the outdoor pool: this master swimmer with the big, loud growly voice is always a big hit with the kids. Its mustache is almost as impressive as its vocals...

- Eating a snack next to the dolphins - we usually head downstairs to watch the dolphins in the viewing gallery, and the kids like to eat their snacks while seated in the recessed windows there. It's a gorgeous spot with a small play area right next to it.

Dancing with sea otters.
- Watching the sea otters swim and swim and swim and ... swim! These critters are stars at the Vancouver Aquarium: they've got charm, superb swimming skills, fluffy fur and the cutest faces. What's not to love?

Butterflies in the rainforest exhibit.

That's just a few things my kids enjoy at the Aquarium. And then of course there's the sharks, and the belugas, and not to be forgotten: the gift shop! (I always have to hold on rather tightly to my wallet as we exit through the aisles of that gift shop...)

The re-built plaza outside Vancouver Aquarium, featuring the famous Orca-sculpture.
The Vancouver Aquarium is a busy spot, especially on holidays and weekends, but there is a good reason for that: it's a place that provides a lot of educational fun and hands-on exhibits and activities for kids. It's also located in Vancouver's beautiful Stanley Park, so if you're visiting the city, it's a great spot for an excursion.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

10 quick tips when you're flying with kids

Taking your kids on a flight, or a series of flights if you're doing some long-haul travel, can feel rather daunting when you're a parent. Here are 10 quick tips from me to make flying with kids a little easier, and a little less stressful:

1. Always bring antibacterial wipes & use them
I keep repeating this advice to others and myself for one reason: it works. We used to always pick up some kind of germ or another in our travels, whether a stomach bug or a cold or the flu. Using the wipes after each bathroom visit and before each snack- or meal-time really, really helps. Anti-bacterial gel works too, but the wipes are handy and are not considered a liquid, which makes them a bit more convenient to bring on the plane.

2. Use the bathroom when you see it
I still try to hustle my kids into the bathroom whenever I spot one at the airport, even though they're older these days and usually able to tell me they need to go before it becomes an emergency. However, when you're going through an airport with young kids, it is a good policy to take them into the bathroom when you see a bathroom. Otherwise (if you're luck is anything like mine) you will be standing in some eternal lineup for immigration, check-in, boarding, or security when your child needs to go. And by then, all bathrooms might have magically disappeared...

On board it's a wise policy to take your kids into the bathroom before landing. My kids always seem to have "emergencies" right as we're approaching the airport, or when everyone is standing up, waiting for the doors to open. Not ideal for relaxed bathroom visits!

3. If your child can stand up, bring pullups rather than regular diapers on the flight
Diaper changes in an airplane bathroom are never fun. Yes, there are change-tables, but in the extremely cramped quarters it is never easy to change a diaper in the air. With my kids, I found it to be a lot easier to change a pullup than a regular diaper. Even if you don't usually use pullups, it might be a good idea to bring some on the plane, once your child is able to stand up.

4. Always look back before leaving
I got this advice a long time ago in my youthful backpacking days, and I still live by this rule. Whenever you've stopped or sat down for a break, a snack, to make a phone call, or whatever reason - look back as you're leaving to see if you've left anything behind. It's saved my sanity several times, because I've spotted dropped toys or blankets, or a cellphone or wallet.

5. Wear comfy pants
Few things make me more uncomfortable on a flight than tight pants. Anything that pinches at the waist is awful. I don't like tight pants at the best of times, but when you spend hours sitting in a cramped airplane seat, and feel your body bloat and swell from the pressure... well, a loose-fitting waistband is a lot better than a tight one. I'm not the world's biggest fan of yoga pants, but if there was ever a place to wear them, the airplane is it.

6. Chocolate + kids + planes = bad news
Chocolate covered snack-bars, or candy is not a good idea for a flight. At least for my kids, we always seem to end up with chocolate everywhere, and that's not great when you're on a plane. Anything that "melts in your mouth, not in your hand" is a better snack-choice.

7. Apps, games, and e-readers are great ways to pass the time
Plan ahead and get some kid-friendly apps and games for your electronic devices (new ones if possible, to further battle travel boredom). If you get stuck at an airport, or on any long flights, it is a good way to pass the time. I always make sure I have some go-to kids' books on my Kindle as well.

8. Pen & paper is a must
Entertaining your kids when you're on a long flight, or waiting for a long time at an airport can be a big challenge. And electronic devices will only last so long: I find my kids get bored with them eventually, or the devices may need recharging when there is nowhere to recharge them. Pen and paper, that old-school form of entertainment, can help. Draw pictures, write stories, play simple games like tic-tac-toe or Hangman... you can always do something with a pen (or pencil) and some paper.

9. Don't forget your charging cables
It's easy to remember bringing your electronic devices, but sometimes (and yes, I am speaking from experience), it's easy to forget the charging cables. Bring them along in your hand-luggage: some airports and airplanes are starting to provide places for recharging.

10. Pockets are good, and waist packs
When you're traveling with kids, there are always things you need to keep track of: pacifiers, tickets, toys, snacks, money, cellphone... A waist pack or a good travel-purse can be a life-saver (and will hold your most important travel-documents securely), but it's also good to wear clothes that have pockets. Sweaters or cardigans with pockets is a favourite travel-gear of mine for this very reason.
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