Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Enjoying the unexpected

My husband Mark is the consummate go-with-the-flow guy.  He’s content to just show up in a place and see what happens.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, and hardly surprising, I am an obsessive planner… Any time I book a trip, I spend hours researching accommodations, transportation, local attractions, restaurants etc. 

Part of the reason is that most of the time our travels are so short (thanks to the minimal number of weeks of holiday we get in Canada) – I want to maximize what we see every day – in a way that still allows B to have his meals, nap, play and down times.  The other reason is I always want to reduce the number of what-ifs, particularly when traveling with a toddler.

I have to keep reminding myself to take time to just relax and enjoy the spontaneous moments.

In August, on the way to the airport for our return flight from Reykjavik, Iceland we passed the time (while B napped) in our rental car enjoying the sites of the Reykjanes peninsula.  All of a sudden we came upon a lighthouse perched atop a cliff – one of the most dramatic and scenic places I’d ever seen.

Further along, in the town of Keflavik near the airport, I noticed what looked like a Viking house built into the side of cliff.  While Mark stayed in the car with B (still sleeping away), I went to investigate.  I was surprised to find a giant’s house, complete with a huge bed, fire pit and a wooden cage enclosing a 20’ high giant snoring away.  Delighted by my discovery, I also got a good laugh when the giant suddenly ‘ripped one.’  Just another example of the wonderfully quirky humor Icelanders possess.

Neither of these places was mentioned in my guidebook, but they were two of the most surprising and memorable sights of my visit to Iceland.

My favorite travel necessity

I love Ziploc freezer bags!  They are great for organizing, you can see what’s inside so it’s easy to find things, you can wash and reuse them and they keep your luggage safe from the inevitable leaky toiletry.  I’ve got a ziploc for each of the following.  I keep them stocked and in my ‘travel’ drawer, so I just pull out the ones I need when I am packing for a trip:

Toiletry pack – toothbrushes, toothpaste, deoderant, diaper cream etc. I always double bag this one just in case the inner bag gets a hole and/or if something leaks

Meal pack – bib, sippy cup, small plastic cutlery, small quiet toys and crayons, small pack of wipes

Prep and wash pack - Small cutting board and paring knife in a plastic sleeve, small container of dish detergent, j-cloths

Laundry pack – hand washing detergent packets, small bottle of fabreeze, small bottle of Downy wrinkle release, dryer sheets (for putting in stinky shoes or to keep clothes fresh in hotel drawers)

Bath pack – inflatable bath tub, a couple small bath toys, a little bottle of bedtime bath liquid, inflatable faucet cover

Bug pack – bug repellent packets and kid’s bug patches, kid’s afterbite

Travel toys – O’Ball, stacking cups, other small toys

First aid kit – bandages, antiseptic wipes, sliver kit, kid’s polysporin-to-go, children’s pain reliever

Safety kit – masking tape, cabinet locks, door jams, bear bell (to put on cruise cabin doors in case B tries to make a stealthy nighttime exit), bungie cords

Tool and power kit – plug adaptors, extension cord, night light, small screwdriver, and extra batteries for the baby monitor and/or toys

Craft pack – colouring pages, sticker sheets, foamy stickers, crayons, air sickness bags, glue stick, pipe cleaners, Color Wonder sheets and markers

Play dough pack – play dough is great fun but doesn’t work well on planes or at the airport, so I pack a few mini canisters with a few moulding tools in a separate bag which I keep out of sight until we are somewhere where B can play without making a mess

Diaper pack – a few diapers, small pack of wipes, change pad and disposable diaper bags

And I always pack extras to carry snacks and for packing possibly leaky souvenirs for the voyage home.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Enjoying Salem with a Toddler

On our recent trip to Boston to catch a New England cruise, the threat of a strike by Air Canada flight attendants pushed us to move our flight up a few days.  As a result we had a couple extra days to spend in the Boston area. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to visit Salem, Massachusetts in October and my opportunity had finally arrived!

Salem is best known as the location of the witch trials in which over 150 people were arrested and imprisoned between February 1692 and May 1693.  In all, 20 people (14 women and 6 men) were executed in the mass hysteria. As a result of it’s history, October, and Halloween in particular, is Salem’s busiest time for tourism. 

Many of the attractions in Salem aren’t suited to babies or toddlers, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t activities and sights for them to enjoy.  It just meant saving the graveyard visits until B was napping and skipping the haunted houses. October’s Haunted Happenings is a month-long series of events leading up to Halloween, including many family-oriented events such as trick or treating and children’s costume parades.
Things to do

The Salem Visitor Center  is a good starting point for maps and ideas, and is right across the street from Salem’s main parking garage.  Kids can check out models of sailing ships and the wharf area, and there is a small activity center with games, coloring pages and crayons.

Red lines painted on sidewalks make Salem an easy place to explore and they are marked on most tourist maps.  The red lines create four loops through town, passing the majority of Salem’s most important and interesting sites.

Salem Common is a large, well-tended green space; lots of space to run around and a large play ground.  Grab a delicious latte and chocolate chip cookie from Jaho Coffee & Tea on Derby St. and admire the attractive, historic homes along the park’s perimeter while the kids play.

Salem Trolley Tours - B was thrilled to ride on a red trolley bus for a tour of the town.  It’s a hop-on, hop-off tour, so if the kids get antsy, you can hop-off and rejoin the trolley later if you wish.

Great food
We enjoyed lunch at Red's Sandwich Shop on Central Street, a popular and friendly restaurant which serves enormous servings of delicious food.  B asked for pancakes.  At $3.50 for one, this pancake was a bargain… a foot in diameter and an inch thick… B had a big meal for lunch, we ate the leftovers for dinner that evening and still had some left!

Victoria Station on Pickering Wharf has great seafood and a good kid’s menu.  We skipped the offerings on the kid’s menu and ordered B the Boathouse 5-cheese mac and cheese from the appetizer section of their regular menu.  B enjoyed it, and so did we – it was probably the best mac and cheese I’ve ever had, so it was easy to polish off what B left behind.

Yummy treats

Ye Olde Pepper Candy Company on Derby Street is America’s oldest candy store, and is filled to the brim with tempting chocolates, candies and fudge.  Try their famous Gibralters, sugary chunks of rock candy available in lemon and peppermint flavors.

Maria's Sweet Somethings on Front Street has super-cute Frankenstein petit fours, chocolates and ice cream.

Fun shopping

You won't be able to fit a stroller in the shop, but the Derby Square Book Store on Essex Street is definitely worth a visit for discounted books for adults and children. The tall stacks of teetering books bring to mind Dr. Seuss, though the shelves are strategically secured with bungee cords so they won’t fall over.

You can’t beat Witch Tees for cute souvenir t-shirts of your visit.  There is a branch along the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall and another in the Museum Place Mall next to the Visitor Center.

The Happy Sunflower on Pickering Wharf has a huge selection of ornaments, perfect for topping off a gift or decorating your Christmas tree and personalization is free.


Depending on traffic, Salem is about a 45 minute drive from downtown Boston.  There are only a couple of accommodation options in Salem itself, and many more options in nearby Peabody.  

A sturdy stroller is a must for the cobblestone and brick streets.  Automatic doors and wheelchair ramps are few and far between though I found there was never a shortage of people to hold a door or lend a hand getting B’s stroller up or down steps.


The best-laid plans of mice and men…

I’m well overdue for an entry!  B and I just returned from a few days in Salem and Boston, Massachusetts and a one-week cruise to Maine, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and frankly I’m exhausted!

On our return flight, B was a handful - no barf-bag puppet, lollipop, snacks, toys, Dora episode, or craft was sufficient to keep him cheery on this flight.  Though I try to keep his routine as normal as possible when we travel, a week and a half without Daddy, the excitement of new places and activities, punctuated by a flight delay was taking its toll.

As B gets older, it becomes more and more difficult to get him to keep his seat belt fastened, and this became my biggest challenge on this flight.  Not surprisingly, he’d rather be anywhere else than strapped to his seat for a whole flight.  Usually I wrap a flannel receiving blanket around the buckle – it is comfy and keeps the bucket out of sight and out of mind – but on this flight, he wasn’t having any part of that.

Our short hour and a half flight felt like a decade, and I swore to myself for our next flight, one of us would be flying duct-taped to a wing.  But only a few days later, I find myself imagining our next trip and looking forward to another adventure.

No amount of creative and strategic carry-on packing was sufficient for this flight.  But as John Steinbeck wrote, even the “best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.” 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How to Travel Like a Kid - Great Advice from Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet's latest e-newsletter features a great article called How to Travel Like a Kid offering helpful tips for traveling with children of all ages.

I agree wholeheartedly with this article, as some of our my most memorable moments traveling with B have been the unplanned, non-touristy ones; playing soccer against the wind in Maui, meeting other kids at playgrounds in Norway, enjoying a walk along the ocean in Panama City...  I try to make sure I've always got our O-Ball (which I wrote about in an earlier post) in my back pack because it makes for a fun way to blow off steam pretty much anywhere you are.


How to travel like a kid

by Andy Murdock
Lonely Planet Author

When thinking about travelling with children, as adults we tend to focus on one angle: how do we have fun (and stay sane) while travelling with our kids?

There’s a flip-side to the coin: kids have to survive a trip with us and the inscrutable decisions we make when travelling, and we don’t always have their best interests in mind. Even when we do try to take the kids’ travel wishes into account, we can often get it wrong. You can spend a lot of time and money on a trip to Disney World, thinking it will be the best vacation your kids could imagine, only to find that their favorite part of the trip was the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the hotel. So what’s a travelling parent to do?

When you see a kid having a fantastic time, or quite the opposite, pay attention – there may be something you can learn about travel for yourself. Here are seven important lessons that kids can teach adults about travel:

1. Are we there yet?

Too much time in transit makes anyone grumpy. Don’t fill your precious trip time with long drives and boring layovers. If you have the option, choose fun modes of transit: steam trains, double-decker buses, seaplanes or speed boats often do the trick. If you’ve got no choice but to brave the long straight road ahead get the kids involved in navigating, keeping track of the distance and planning rest stops. You’re often close to some great things just a short drive from the direct route you’re on, so allow time to detour.

2. A taste of home can help sometimes

Kids tend to have little patience for bad food, and neither should you. And weird food? Sometimes it’s interesting, sometimes it’s just weird. It’s all about a balance. Local specialties are a great way to experience a place and street food markets in particular are exciting places to explore, but a dish from home can be exactly what you need to feel happy and comfortable somewhere new. So don’t miss Marrakesh’s Djemaa el-Fna, but the family might be happier dining in more familiar surroundings.

3. Release control

We drag kids all over the place, and sometimes we drag them somewhere and suddenly they’re having fun. They’re doing something new, something unexpected and spontaneous, and no matter how much they cried and whined on the way, it’s fantastic. The same can be true for you if you let someone else – maybe even your kids – take the reins and steer you toward something you never thought you would try. Surrender control of the guidebook and see where you get taken.

4. Make the world your playground

Okay, perhaps playing peek-a-boo with the person behind you on an airplane isn’t your style, but kids have the right idea: if it’s boring, turn it into a game. Treasure hunts in museums aren’t just for kids: they can be a great way to explore a popular attraction and leave the crowds behind. Can you spot the medieval galleon scribbled on the wall of Hagia Sofia in Istanbul?

5. Nap time

It doesn’t matter how old you are, how much energy you have, or that you trip is coming to an end and you want to squeeze in as much as you can – everyone needs a break when travelling. Spent the day trekking from sight to sight around Rome? Sit down for a coffee and watch the world stream by, it might even energize you for more exploration later.

6. More parks and walks, fewer museums

Strolling city neighborhoods and local parks can provide some of the most fun and rewarding experiences on a trip, and they’re always free. Sailing a model boat in the Jardin du Luxembourg or a fierce match of ping-pong in Bryant Park are fun (and thoroughly local) experiences for kids of any age. Carrying a hacky sack or fold-up Frisbee can give you all a chance to let off some steam and won’t weigh down your bag.

7. Again! Again!

Is your child the type that wants to read their favorite book over and over? If you do something that makes them laugh, do they want you to repeat it again and again? The same may be true with travel. Never underestimate the joys of a return visit to a treasured destination or repeating a great experience.

Friday, October 7, 2011

"They won't remember anyway"

I often hear people ask “Why travel with a baby/toddler?  They won’t remember anyway.”

There are several reasons:

WE will remember

Sure, we need to make sure our son is entertained and enjoying himself, but we are there too, and we are paying the bill.  So we pick places we would choose to go anyway, and find ways to incorporate play time, meals and nap times into the local destination.  In Maui, it was a treat to visit the local playgrounds - B had a great time playing, while we enjoyed the beautiful view.  And while he napped in the back seat of the car, we explored the island and ate lots of shave ice!

Practice for us

Mark and I are experts at getting us, toddler and all the gear through security checks at the airport.  The more you do it, the easier it gets.  I am no longer filled with angst when I think about lugging a B through the airport along with carry-on bags, luggage, a travel crib, and a car seat!  And with all the things we need to pack for our son, we've learned how to pack lean and mean - which is extra important now that most of the airlines are charging for each checked bag.

Learning opportunities

I think of my own pre-baby travels and my time spent cycling in Europe and Asia.  My first cycling trip was to Denmark – a clean, safe, cycling paradise where cyclists have their own lanes, traffic lights and secure parking lots.  With each subsequent trip, I tried someplace a little less cyclist-friendly, culminating in 2005 and 2006 with 3,000 kms of cycling over 7 weeks through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.  I would never have even contemplated a voyage like that had I not gained confidence in my previous trips.

Will B remember playing with other kids at a pre-school in Norway, making sand castles in Hawaii or gawking at an endangered frog in Panama?  Probably not.  But with each trip, he has become more comfortable putting his blankie through the x-ray machine at the airport, with long flights and changing accommodations.

Travel, like anything else, is a learning experience

Few of us will remember what we learned in grade one.  But those lessons laid the foundation for what we learned in subsequent grades and hopefully led us all to be reasonably intelligent adults.  My hope is by the time B becomes old enough to travel by himself, he feels no destination is beyond his limits.

Travel Vaccinations

If you are planning to travel outside of Canada, it is always a good idea to visit a travel medicine clinic to find out if there are any precautions you need to take for yourself and your children.

This may seem obvious for far-flung trips to the rainforests of Brazil or the wilds of Africa, but it is important to be aware of travel health issues even in the less obvious places:  Recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel health advisories included outbreaks of measles in Norway, and upsurges of dengue fever in the Bahamas (yes, even Nassau) and malaria in Greece.

According to Dr. Mark Wise, Director of Toronto’s ‘The Travel Clinic':
  • There are lots of interesting diseases out there 
  • With a little bit of common sense, you probably won’t get any of them 
  • You should probably know about them anyway, just in case
Dr. Wise’s website is a fantastic resource for any destination, and his entertaining writing style makes for an engaging read.

Find your nearest travel clinic

If you have concerns about vaccinating your kids, you are not alone.  Today’s Parent Magazine offers an informative take on the pros and cons of vaccinating your child and addresses many of the common myths.

Useful Travel Health Resources:
Online Directory of Canadian Travel Health Clinics
Healthy Travel with Kids (CDC)
International Travel & Health (World Health Organization)
Travel Health (Public Health Agency of Canada)
Travel Vaccines (Public Health Agency of Canada)
Well on Your Way – A Canadian’s Guide to Healthy Travel Abroad

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Great toddler toys for your airline carry-on

Great toys for airline flights aren’t always the same as great toys for road trips.  A toy dropped on the floor of the car is usually easier to retrieve than one dropped on a cramped airplane floor.  Due to carry-on restrictions, toys brought on board need to be entertaining, very compact, and not break any hearts if left behind on a plane.

Now that B is a toddler, here are some things I won’t fly without:

Pipe cleaners – If your toddler can resist putting these up his nose or in her ears, pipe cleaners can be loads of fun.  They take up barely any space and you can bend them into animals, goofy glasses, or a million other things.  If you’ve got Cheerios, you can string them on the pipe cleaners for instant jewelry.  I always make sure to fold over the ends of the pipe cleaners before packing them so there are no sharp ends.

Stickers – My personal favourite are the big 700-sticker books by Golden Books available for the Wonder Pets, Diego, Dora, Thomas the Tank Engine and others.  The stickers are colourful, cute and fun – but they are really only slightly stickier than a post-it note.  So, your toddler can put them on airplane windows, the tray table, his hair, your face, where ever.  And when he is finished playing, they just peel right off and can be reused.  The books themselves are a bit big, so I pull out pages and put them in a ziploc bag in my carry-on bag.

Colour Wonder Markers and Colouring Pages – Kids love colouring with markers, but it doesn’t take long to regret handing a toddler a regular marker (even the washable kind) on an airplane.  Colour Wonder Markers will only work on Colour Wonder paper, so you won’t have to wash marker off hands, mouths, tray tables or anywhere else your toddler chooses to write.  If only they would make these in a triangular version so they don’t roll off the tray table…

Crayons – Are always a good bet and triangular crayons are helpful if you can get them – anyone who has had to retrieve a dropped crayon from the floor with a reclined airline chair wedged against their head can appreciate these, because they won’t roll off the tray table.  Though a bit rolly, Alex’s Farm Finger Crayons are fun because not only can you colour with them, they have cute animal faces can be stacked.

And don’t forget the ‘air sickness’ bags in the seat pocket in front of you.  They can be used to create puppets and those pipe cleaners you brought along make great antennae!