How to Travel by Plane with One Single Baby, One Year or Younger

I feel like I need to be EXTREMELY specific with the title of this blog post, because while we've successfully traveled a number of times with Elise, any recommendations I make are based strictly on our experience. Being that "our experience" only includes one child who has only just reached one year, you should probably take this with a grain of salt. Maybe a spoonful of grains, in fact. Nevertheless, I shall proceed, while acknowledging that whenever we have more than one child and we travel with said children, I'll probably need to blow this up and start over.

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Here we go!

CHOOSING FLIGHTS

If at all possible - logistically, financially, or otherwise - aim for a flight that coincides with nap time or bed time. Unless your baby will not sleep except in his or her bed at very specific times, getting her to sleep is by far the easiest way to "enjoy" the flight yourself. It often means very little sleep for you as the parent, but it also means that you're not wrangling a crying baby for 5+ hours, or however long you're traveling for. Given those two options, I personally prefer the former. I can sleep when I'm dead, and if my kid isn't screaming, I won't die of embarrassment as a result of the trip. 

If you aren't able to choose a flight around a regular sleeping time, Godspeed. You will likely still make it to your destination in one piece, and you will hopefully never see anyone who was on your flight ever again. Dignity by obscurity!

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TRAVEL REGULATIONS

For US domestic flights, many airlines do not require identification for your baby if you are traveling as a family. However, some do, so make sure to take a look at the airline's policy before you leave. To play it safe, bring a copy of your baby's birth certificate to ensure that you won't have any trouble.

If you're traveling internationally, your baby will need a passport. In addition, if you are traveling with your baby internationally and without your spouse, you might be questioned at the border since they're on the lookout for child abduction. Upon returning from France, the Icelandic border control guard let me through THAT TIME, but informed me that if I were to ever travel internationally with Elise and  without Chaz again, I should bring along a note from him saying that he had given his blessing. I assume that would have been true the other way around as well, if he had been traveling with Elise and without me. Otherwise, I SMELL THE PATRIARCHY.* Personally, I'm not sure forging a note would cause that much moral distress to someone who was already abducting a child, but evidently it makes all the difference. 

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* Please note the sarcasm. 

CAR SEATS

Trying to decide what to do about a car seat is tricky, and depends on what you will be doing upon arrival to your destination. My preferred method is to not bring one and travel entirely by train, but that isn't usually doable in the US. If a car seat is necessary, there are a few different methods you can use:

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  1. If you're renting a car, you can rent a car seat as well. Rental car companies usually have both infant and toddler car seats, and we've used this method successfully before. However, it's not the cheapest way, since you typically pay by day. 
  2. You can bring your own car seat. If you go this route, you can choose to either bring the seat on the plane (if your baby has his or her own seat, or if you're using it as one of your carry on items), check it when you check in, or gate check it. I know there is some concern about what happens to car seats in the cargo section of the plane and whether they get too abused to be safe, but I personally am not too worried about that after finding that my stroller did just fine in the belly of the beast.
  3. If you work out transportation from the airport to wherever you'll be staying, you can buy a cheap car seat on Amazon and ship it to your destination. This might work well if you plan on returning several times and have a place to store it when you're not using it. 

WHAT TO BRING ON THE PLANE

For starters, bring your spouse. It makes hauling all your stuff significantly easier. It also means that you can go to the bathroom at the airport (or on the plane) without strapping your baby to your back while simultaneously dragging your luggage and/or trying to get through security while everyone behind you in line wonders what the heck is taking you so long.

Glad we've got that covered. 

Spouse or no spouse, bring a stroller and a baby carrier. The stroller is great in the airport (after security), and the carrier is the BEST thing to have on the plane, especially if you've gotten your baby to sleep. Gate check the stroller so that you have it right away when you land, unless you don't. In the event that you don't, you still have your carrier, so it's not the end of the world.

Other things that I've found useful include toy/pacifier wipes for when toys (that your baby loves to stick in her mouth) inevitably fall on the ground, Purell wipes to somewhat mitigate the ingestion of germs that live on every single surface in the plane, snacks upon snacks upon snacks (since the airline will only give you pretzels if you're lucky), and an empty sippy cup. I like to fill up Elise's cup in the airport water fountain after security so that I don't have to depend on the flight attendant coming around with what must be the smallest imaginable bottle of water.

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I also like to bring a few toys and board books, since they don't take up too much space and will entertain Elise for at least a few minutes. For the toys, I'll often bring a pacifier clip so that I can attach them to Elise and reduce the number of times I have to think about how many germs they picked up from the surfaces around us. Her O-ball was a particular hit when we went to France.

Lastly, diapers and wipes are obviously necessary. However, I usually adjust my changing supplies containment method while flying so that everything I need is all in a gallon ziplock bag. I bring between five to seven diapers (depending on the length of the flight), which is more than generous, but keeps me well within my comfort zone. I also include my package of wipes, hand sanitizer, and several sandwich-size ziplock bags so that I can dispose of any particularly smelly diapers without offending the next bathroom visitor. Having it all stored inside a gallon bag means that I can just grab it from my carry-on backpack and hoist both it and my baby down the plane center aisle without whacking people in the face with a giant diaper bag. I also don't need to wrestle with it in the closet that doubles as the airplane loo.

Oh, and make sure you bring your own survival tools. Dark chocolate is an absolute MUST.

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GETTING YOUR BABY TO SLEEP

I mean...do whatever is necessary. You know your baby the best. For me, that looks  like strapping Elise into the baby carrier and going to stand in the back of the plane to rock until she conks out. If she's tired - and so far we've mostly worked out flights so that she is tired by the time we're on board - she'll go to sleep fairly quickly. The only downside of this method is that you may or may not be in the travel path of the flight attendants getting minuscule bottles of water for other passengers. Eventually they will get tired of you having to move every time they come back and will tell you stand in the corner, which is actually preferable to standing in front of the bathrooms, which is where they had originally told you to stand. This process will also likely be smoother on international flights with more space in the back and often times more merciful flight attendants.  

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FLYING

This section could more accurately be "how to avoid having your baby cry during takeoff and landing." The trick can be found on probably every single traveling-with-babies blog post on the internet. Feed that tiny human both on the ascent and descent, and the ears will not cause you issues. Nursing, pouches, water, juice boxes, and even pacifiers in case of snack-less dire straits will do the trick. 

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Crying at other times is most likely due to feeling uncomfortable, being overtired, needing food, or any of the other hosts of reasons babies cry when they are not on planes. If discomfort is the culprit, try changing the diaper. While it is possible to change a diaper in your lap or, if your child is big enough, while she stands between your knees, use your best judgement when it comes to the content of the diaper. In other words, if it's going to be rather pungent, proceed to the nearest plane bathroom and bring along your ziplock bags. I definitely dreaded changing in the bathroom the first time, and then I realized it wasn't that bad. It gets a bad rap, but as long as there is a changing table (and by golly, there SHOULD BE), it's not really that much different from changing your baby on a changing table at home without a changing pad. Speaking of which, make sure you bring a travel changing pad. If you don't, paper towels make an effective, albeit non-squishy alternative.

ARRIVING

Congratulations! You made it through the hardest part! Now you just have to collect your stuff and get off the plane. If you're in another country, you will have to go through customs and get your passport stamped, but since you're not a criminal and the reason for your visit is obviously vacation, that's no big deal. My only note of import: make sure to take a good look around you before you get off the plane to verify that you haven't left behind anything of value. Or anything at all, for that matter. This last step used to be something I barely considered, because I'd usually put away anything that I took out when I finished using it. With a baby, many more things ended up outside of my luggage and didn't get replaced immediately, so the risk of losing something increased significantly. 

BITS AND BOBS

Jet Lag: it's a beast, unless you've done the red-eye thing. If you did an overnight flight, three cheers for you! You should be just fine. If you didn't, well...just make it past the first two days or so, and you will survive. Just prepare yourself to be very tired and try to keep as "normal" a schedule as possible so that you adjust naturally.

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Useful Items: if you've gone somewhere international, don't bank on having high chairs in restaurants. Get yourself one of these before you go and you will be so so so so glad you did. If your baby is eating solid food, these will also turn you into the restaurant's favorite patron, since you're clearly not expecting the restaurant to clean up after your kid.

Ideal Age Range: this is probably a personal preference, but I really liked traveling around 9 months. It was nice to have an interested, yet non-walking baby who was eating enough food to sample things while abroad, but didn't want to do all the things herself. 12 months was much harder due to the walking/independence, but was still totally doable. Traveling at 5 months was also a little nerve-wracking, but only because we hadn't done it before. So my recommendation is around 9 months, but opinions are not fact. There you have it.

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Sleeping Arrangements: I have yet to travel with a pack and play, but I have transported a Dockatot and am happy to report that you CAN squish that into a large suitcase. However, there's no way I'm bringing something that large on a long haul trip, so at least while we were in France, I just co-slept. It was much easier than any other option. But! If you don't want to do that, hotels often have cribs or pack and plays, and if you're lucky, the family you're visiting on the other side of the country will have one available thanks to other, now-older grandchildren. Finally, if that hadn't been possible for us, this thing (or any of the similar ones) would have arrived on my doorstep faster than I could use the "Buy With One Click" button on Amazon. That button is dangerous.

Diapers/Wipes: While I do bring as many wipes as I can comfortably fit, I like to bring just as many diapers as I need for the first day or two and then buy more when I get there. This philosophy worked out particularly well in France, where it turns out that grocery store diapers were superior and significantly less expensive than Pampers. I wish I could get them here.

So there's all my advice! Go forth and explore the globe, fellow parents! Then come back and tell me what else I should have included. May your children be less wiggly for souvenir photos than ours.

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Euro Trip with a Baby, Part 3

Congratulations! You've made it to the last chapter of our seemingly everlasting narrative!

To conclude our time in Basel, we attempted to board an earlier train to Paris than the one for which we had a ticket. I repacked all of our many things, including the items we'd picked up as souvenirs along the way, and they somehow still managed to fit in our bags. I'm still not sure how that worked, because I'm pretty sure I left the US with no room to spare. 

Once packed, I fed Elise, changed her diaper, got her into all her outdoor gear, strapped her in the stroller, attached everything else to various parts of my body, and we left the hotel. Since Chaz was going to be checking out the next day, we left our key in the room so that he could return it (along with his own key) at that point. We arrived at the train station with plenty of time to spare, so we picked up a pretzel and some water to keep us well fed and hydrated on the train. 

When we got to the track, I figured it'd be best to confirm that getting on an earlier train was fine. Would it have been fine? Yes. Would it have been free? NO. The conductor informed me it would be an extra $131 (USD), and we suddenly had an extra four hours to kill with all of our luggage...over nap time. What a development. Back to the hotel we went. Suddenly leaving the key in the room seemed like a terrible idea, but when you're laden with a tiny human and bags hanging off of most of your appendages, the front desk people don't ask too many questions when you say you left your key in the room.

I had intended to go to the (utterly wonderful) Swiss grocery store once more in those four hours, but instead it turned into a nap fest. Elise decided sleeping with her feet on me was the most comfortable position.

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She got a good rest and then we washed, rinsed, and repeated the same process again for the second time. The silver lining here was that Rachael was now on the same train! Hip hip hooray!

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Three hours and sixteen minutes later we found ourselves back in Paris, ready to catch our flight home the next day. But since we WERE in Paris, we immediately knew we needed to make the most of our remaining couple of hours. 

To do:

  1. Eat crêpes. 
  2. Buy more Ladurée macarons.
  3. Take in the final sights.

Our train had arrived at 7:45 pm, so by the time we were setting out from the hotel it was 8:45. First stop: crêpes. Oh my goodness. We found the BEST crêpe place in le Marais, which is, in my humble opinion, the loveliest historic district in the city. It's also a safe place for two women and a baby to be walking around at night, so win-win. But the CRÉPES. If you're in Paris, you must go to La Droguerie. You must! Rachael and I each got two crêpes - one savory (for dinner, of course) and one sweet. 

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And look at the jolly Frenchman in the back! He was the crêpe master, and he gave us free cups of tasty mint tea and told me my French was good. I was flattered. However, he did first ask if I was American...

I shared my apple-filled crêpe with Elise, and she LOVED it. 

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Each time I offered it to her, she'd try to take a bigger bite, and once it was in her mouth she wouldn't let go. If the baby approves, you know you've got a good thing going. 

With filled bellies, we made our way back to the metro and raced toward Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées. They closed at 11 and we walked in at 10:59. The ladies at the counter begrudgingly filled our macaron order and rather smugly turned away the man that walked in at 11:00, but no amount of near-closing-time attitude could stifle our anticipation over the imminent macaron consumption. I'm happy to report that they exceeded our expectations. 

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With our final stop of the night complete, we felt like we'd hit everything we needed to and went back to the hotel feeling content and ready to head home in the morning. Our flight was at 11:30 am, so we decided we'd leave at 9:00 to give ourselves plenty of time to get to the airport. Please note: we each received an email informing us that there was a Nor'easter scheduled to hit Boston at the same time as our flight, and that we should be prepared for a delay. This email also mentioned that we could make one free change to our flight plans, but we figured we'd use that in case we got stuck in Reykjavik due to our Boston flight being canceled.

What we did not anticipate was leaving half an hour late and that it took roughly 1.5 hours to get from our hotel to the airport, thanks to rush hour traffic. If you're wondering how we still made our flight...great question. WE DIDN'T. 

Up until that point, I had never missed a flight in my life. I think if it had been any other flight, I would have been out the full airfare for rebooking my ticket, but guess what came in handy? The email! We cashed in on that one free flight change and voila! Rachael, Elise, and I now had a whole extra day in Paris. Considering chances were extremely high that our Reykjavik to Boston flight was going to be canceled anyway (and we later found out that it was), the missed flight was rather fortuitous. 

You've certainly heard the "when life hands you lemons" saying. I'm going to raise you one and say that when life hands you lemons, you occasionally get the chance to practice alchemy and not only make lemonade, but convert your yellow lemons to yellow gold and live it up to the hilt. We chose this opportunity to take that route and I'm pretty sure our spontaneous extra day was the very best. 

First, we found a hotel for the night. We picked the location carefully - le Marais! More crêpes for us! Our room had the most perfect window, and with the slightly warmer temperature and sunny day, we left it open to provide us with some fresh air. 

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We dropped off all of our stuff (another award to Rachael for seriously saving me when it came to hoisting Elise, the stroller, and my suitcase up several flights of stairs between the airport and the hotel), regrouped a bit, and then went in search of lunch. Elise made sure to practice some conducting before we set off. 

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We hit the road and discovered that the Rue de Rivoli is basically the affordable version of the Champs-Élysées. The result? A shopping excursion! We made a bee line for H&M thanks to the fact that while I was perfectly fine wearing the same pants and shirt again for an extra travel day, there are other articles of clothing that I was definitely NOT ok rewearing. Hence the need for a dependable, cheap store with all the...basics.

Along the way we stopped for lunch at a patisserie simply called "Paul." In spite of the simple name, our three-cheese flatbread pizza and chocolate cake were anything but simple, and we walked out feeling rather sprightly and well-fed. We also stumbled across a grand cathedral and used it both as an opportunity for prayers and photos. One of those things felt significantly more holy than the other.

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In retrospect, we should have stayed inside the cathedral and said more prayers, because shortly after departing we got caught in a heavy downpour. Perhaps that was God's casual smiting for taking a few too many photos. We ran the last couple of blocks toward H&M and shook off the few raindrops that hadn't already soaked into our clothes, which led to the discovery that Elise had made great use of the rain as a distraction for removing and disposing of her hat. It was gone forever, sadly, but H&M thwarted her dreams of remaining hatless as we left with a new one in hand. Or rather...on her head. 

After a couple more stops, I realized that if we had any hope of being able to sit down for dinner that night Elise would need a nap, so we made our way back to the hotel. Baby naps have their perks - time to search for the perfect dinner place! A quick Google inquiry for best (affordable) restaurants in le Marais led us to Le Colimaçon, and this is where our extra day went from simply lovely to totally awesome. It turned out to literally be the BEST MEAL. As in best meal I've ever eaten in my entire life, and possibly the best meal I hope to consume for the rest of my life. I knew Paris had good food, but this was above and beyond.

Because we were looking for restaurants in the neighborhood we were staying, we were able to walk. It had warmed up a bit over the course of the trip, so it might be more accurate to say we strolled. I mean, we did have a stroller, so we definitely strolled. The sights were perfectly Parisian, and for a brief moment I wondered if I'd accidentally walked onto the set of Roman Holiday. I then mentally reprimanded myself for that thought seeing as Roman Holiday is set in Rome. 

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It was far too late in the trip to blame jet lag. Baby sleep, perhaps? 

We arrived at the restaurant and were almost turned away because we hadn't made a reservation. At the last moment - the very last, since we had already walked out the door - the waitress ran after us and informed us that someone had reserved a table for six, but only four attended, so a table was available! 

It was a tiny dining room that felt friendly and intimate in a way that only the French can pull off. Elise must have inhaled the classiness of the place and translated it into feeling compliant, because she sat in my lap and chattered quietly while gnawing on a piece of bread as opposed to her normal decibel level for talking in quiet places. That level is off the charts and is typically reserved for church. In case you need proof, here's a shot of both of stuffing our faces with a shared piece of bread prior to the arrival of the main course.

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We didn't take any pictures of the actual food because it was too glorious to behold and might have broken our cameras. Also because we dug into it so fast that we didn't think to whip out any sort of photo-taking device, and once we'd started in there was no stopping us. My steak was perfectly cooked with a divine brown sauce of some sort, and I don't use the word divine lightly! Alongside the steak were vegetables and a small salad, paired with a delicious Merlot that the waitress had recommended. Elise particularly enjoyed the carrots dipped in the brown sauce, and would open her mouth for another bite each time she swallowed.

It was so good that we couldn't say no to dessert, so we followed it up with a chocolate mousse that was probably sent straight from the heavens on to our plates. Elise may or may not have sampled a tiny taste of that as well...the c'est la vie! mentality struck again. I didn't want her to miss out on the meal of a lifetime! 

We left the restaurant and walked back to the hotel vowing to return with our respective spouses in the future. If I say it out loud, it has to happen, right? In the words of the Terminator, I'LL BE BACK. 

So we never actually had more crêpes, but it didn't matter because we'd found something even better. We peaked at the very end, which is the ideal way to (un)plan a trip!

The next day we left 1.5 hours earlier than we'd left the previous day, picked an alternative way to get to the airport, and got to our flight with plenty of time to buy ourselves a final croissant and hot chocolate at the gate. The plane rides were uneventful, and Elise figured out a great way to both entertain herself and give me a workout: 

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We arrived home to a foot of snow, no power, a buried car, and several trees down in our driveway, but we were able to stay with my parents that night and power was restored the following morning. All was well, and best of all, we were reunited once again! We took a blurry selfie to commemorate the occasion. 

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And with that, our international adventures were ended. À bientôt, Paris! 

Euro Trip with a Baby, Part 2

Welcome back to the second installment of the Euro Baby Chronicles. I can promise a continuation of our lengthy recap that may or may not stretch into a THIRD post. I guess we'll find out after I type for awhile longer.

Where did we leave off? Oh yes. The passport was recovered, dinner was delicious, and we had turned in for the night. We had a nice comfy bed and a lovely view overlooking the street in a charming hotel, although it turned out that the other half of our traveling party had issues with their shower. Sad times! I think the hotel made up for it with their delicious breakfast offerings though. Elise sampled a croissant and I ate another two myself, coupled with yet another hot chocolate. When in Rome, you know? Or better said...when in Paris, you know?

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After enjoying her croissant, Elise spent a couple of extra minutes hanging out with Rachael while I went on a quick mission to buy some diapers from the nearby market. Turned out they were quasi-closed - they informed me I needed to leave after I walked through the very much unlocked door - but Elise clearly loved her quality time. 

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Upon my return, we squashed all of us and our various suitcases, bags, and the recently-delivered stroller (!) into an Uber and sped across town to the Gare de l'Est train station to ride toward Colmar. Colmar is a tiny town in the Alsace region on the eastern border of France (wine country!), and if you want a visual, picture a village straight out of Beauty and the Beast and you'll be right on the money.

It was COLD. 

We also had all of our bags since we were going to end up in Basel, but Google had informed us that the bike shop next door would stow luggage for the day for a mere two Euro per item. Great news! The downside? The bike shop was closed for lunch, and would not reopen for two hours. The upside? The train station had a little restaurant. We camped out, drank some hot drinks, and waited until the bike shop employees had finished their afternoon lunch + siesta. After walking so many miles in the previous two days, I don't think any of us were sad about the forced break. 

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When the appointed hour came, we dropped off the luggage and made our way into town on foot. It was as charming as ever and as lovely as I had remembered from my first time there, albeit much chillier. We found a sandwich shop for lunch and then proceeded to walk around town, stopping in shops where we wanted to investigate items we'd seen in the window and taking all sorts of pictures of our surroundings along the way. 

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There were two places to note in particular: first, we found French Target. Monoprix has everything from diapers and wipes (thank goodness - I had just used up my very last one from home) to food to housewares to clothing, and all of it was adorable. Elise got a souvenir from here, because it's an unspoken yet widely acknowledged rule that you can't pass through Target/Monoprix and leave empty-handed.

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I should add that I found the French generic-brand diapers to be significantly superior to Pampers. I'm still working on trying to get a subscription service sent to my house directly from Monoprix.

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Second, we found an ice cream shop called Edelw'ice. 

Let's pause for a moment to really appreciate the greatness of that pun. 

I stood in the street and laughed out loud because hello, I'm a nerd. Had it not been so cold, I would have bought as much as I could from them just because I loved the name of the business so much. Here's a blurry photo taken so that I could revel in the punny glory for ages to come:

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After laughing so hard, we needed a snack, so we hit up a nearby chocolate and pastry shop for our pick me up. Elise was beyond delighted to be released from the constraints of her stroller, and she didn't hesitate to let the entire dining area know about her glee. 

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Fortunately, the window distracted her enough that we were able to make it through our tea and (yet more) croissants without shattering any porcelain dishware, and we left with full bellies and slightly damaged eardrums. Back to the bike shop we trudged to pick up our luggage and hop on the train to Basel!

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Oh, and we gave up on the stroller for that last leg. Elise got the Ergo treatment instead.

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The half hour train ride was quite uneventful as Elise fell asleep the moment we got on board. After a very active day, I think I may have appreciated her nap even more than she did. She was a total traveling champ on this trip and I was so very proud of her. Look at how happy she was, even when she was pooped!

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She did have mittens...but she would just take them off approximately five seconds after I put them on. Every. Single. Time. 

The vibe of the trip changed a little bit once we got to Basel due to the change of purpose. I mean...my purpose was still the same, but Julie was heading back home, and Rachael was there on a business trip. Do you know who else was there for business? CHAZ! We overlapped with him for a grand total of two nights (he worked during the day, of course), and in that span of time we took zero pictures of us all together. Evidently our priorities were elsewhere - his with work and mine with eating carbs and sugar.

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Basel is definitely a city, but it's a much smaller, quieter city than a giant one like Paris. The effect of that change was that every single thing is closed on Sunday, and we had arrived on a Saturday night. Nevertheless, Elise and I rallied on Sunday morning, got ready for the day, and eventually went exploring after her morning nap. 

As a quick aside - it is logistically difficult to shower while being single-handedly responsible for tending to a baby in a hotel room. We tried several methods over the course of the week, but this one was the most successful. I figure she already knows how to appreciate a good spa treatment.

Believe it or not, our 2.5 days of Basel exploits can be condensed into a few pictures and even fewer words: we came, we saw, and we ate. Success!

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We're actively working on raising the next generation of cathedral lovers. 

Chocolate was obviously an important factor for me, and being in the Land of Chocolate, I was determined to find the best hot chocolate place in the city and drink it. I'm happy to report that I did find it, and it was delectable. Really, you can't go wrong when you're at a place that's dedicated to hot chocolate drinks. 

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It came with a small piece of the actual chocolate used in the drink, a heaping pile of whipped cream ON THE SIDE, and a small glass of water to wash down the decadence. 

While it was amazing and absolutely worth the effort of seeking it out and drinking it while holding a squirmy child, I'm about to make a bold, entirely subjective claim: I liked the Musée d'Orsay's hot chocolate better. 

😬

Overall, the slower pace we took in Basel was a nice reprieve from the hustle and bustle of touristing, and when we weren't roaming the old town streets, we spent several hours in the hotel like this:

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There aren't very many things in life sweeter than a baby who cuddles in her sleep.

Well, I have once again used up more than enough blog post real estate for only a portion of our trip, so I'll continue to drag this out with a part three...

COMING SOON.

Euro Trip with a Baby, Part 1

As you may have surmised from the fact that I posted something here recently, we went to Europe and returned unscathed! The short version of it is that Elise was a champ at traveling, baby jet lag turned out to not even be a thing, really, and it was cold but not unbearable. Three cheers for that. But a single sentence does not a blog post make, so I shall recap IN FULL to appease the masses. Or myself. 

On February 28th, Elise turned 9 months old and I realized I had to get off my procrastinatastic butt and get packing before we left the house at 3pm for our flight. All I can say is praise the Lord for naps, or else we would have needed to buy all our things in another country. Every last thing. Naps happened, the suitcase and the backpack were stuffed, and a couple of spare items were tucked away into the front pocket of the Ergo since they wouldn't fit anywhere else. We hightailed it to the bus that transported us to the airport, and Elise, clad in her very best fleece pajamas, decided that the ride was the perfect time to practice her backwards swan dive. 

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We made it to the airport in plenty of time, lugged our luggage + Ergo + stroller through security, gate checked the stroller, and boarded the plane. We were in the aisle seat, and while the middle seat was empty, the lady in the window seat made it no secret that she was not thrilled to be sitting near a baby. Specifically, she texted someone and then placed her phone in very plain view on the seat between us to make sure I saw it: "On plane. Seated next to an infant." 

Off to a great start!

Fortunately, she need not have worried, and I not-so-secretly hope that she feels a tiny speck of remorse for the snarky text, because Elise barely made a peep and then fell asleep for the majority of that first leg. SO THERE.

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Other than that, there isn't much to report about flying, apart from the fact that Elise got a fair amount of sleep (for a plane ride) and I got none, but we both survived and were ready to go adventuring by the time we got to our hotel and washed ourselves up. Oh, except that our stroller was sent to Copenhagen instead of Paris. That was not fun, but we still had the Ergo. I resembled a pack horse with Elise on the front, my backpack on my back, and my suitcase in hand, but desperate times call for desperate measures, and while a vacation doesn't really count as a "desperate time," it was...laughable. As an added bonus, I probably burned more calories because of the extra portaging. 

I feel like I should add a quick note right here to inform you that the one thing I did NOT end up doing was using my real camera at any point during the trip, despite the fact that I toted both it and my extra lens around with us the whole time. As a result, the photo quality is entirely sub par. You've been warned.

Our first day in Paris was a short one, thanks to the time change. We arrived at 11:00, got settled and cleaned up by 2:00, and were out the door by 2:30 to meet our friends! The plan was to meet at Ladurée on the Champs-Élysées for a late lunch and some macarons, and then walk around the city until dinner. It turns out that Ladurée does everything confectionary well, and so instead of macarons, I opted for their French toast with rose chantilly cream and a raspberry coulis. 

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What does rose chantilly cream taste like, you ask? It tastes like you melted a rose, poured the melted liquid into some heavy cream, added a dash of confectioner's sugar, and whipped it until it gets into its proper form. Basically, it tastes exactly like how a rose smells. By itself, I don't know if I'd eat it off a spoon for a snack. (Am I the only one that does that with regular whipped cream? Don't answer that.) But with the French toast and the raspberry? HEAVENLY. If you go there, you must try it! I insist!

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Elise enjoyed the raspberries, and considering I can't handle the texture of raspberries myself, it was a win for both of us.

Once we finished up, we headed out into the cold to sightsee, but after a couple of metro rides, a long-ish time without milk, and a chilly wind, Elise decided she'd had enough. Our friends Rachael and Julie headed to a delicious dinner at a restaurant Chaz and I ate at on our honeymoon, while Elise and I went back to the hotel to warm up, consume Cheerios and veggie straws for supper, and hit the hay at 8:30. 

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Based on how long this is taking me, I'll probably need to split this thrilling account up into multiple posts. I can just hear you shouting for joy. 

On to day 2! Feeling entirely refreshed, we got ready in the morning and, after nearly flooding the bathroom thanks to an open shower and a parent focused on the baby rather than the water volume, set out to explore. On the itinerary for the day: Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle, and the Musée d'Orsay, followed by dinner with another friend who lives in the city. All in all, it was ambitious, but we managed to do it! 

Notre Dame is always an experience. It's gorgeous, and this time we were lucky enough to be there during a service, so we listened to the chanted prayers and readings (in French, of course!) while walking around the perimeter with all the other tourists. It always amazes me that they're able to carry on with the service with so many people roaming around, but they do, and we were grateful for it. Elise must have been in awe, because she merely looked around and didn't take the opportunity to test the (presumably magnificent) acoustics. I was grateful.  

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After taking it all in, we headed to a nearby cafe and got some lunch before making our way to Sainte-Chapelle. The waiter was charmed with Elise, and by the end of the meal we'd made a new friend. Or at least, she had. 

Sainte-Chapelle had never been on my must-visit list in Paris, but it really should have been. Stained glass is always a sight to behold, but this was beyond comprehension. The closest thing by comparison would be what I imagine it would be like to stand inside a life-size kaleidoscope. Filtered light poured in from every direction, and it seemed like a fitting site for the relics of Christ, for which it was originally constructed. 

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Elise WAS a little more enthusiastic about fussing here, but she quickly gave into slumber and all was quiet shortly thereafter. 

Since the Musée d'Orsay was less than a mile away, we continued our trek on foot. Rachael, a dear friend and also Elise's godmother, should have won an award for the day, because she did some baby-wearing! Elise should probably be counting her lucky stars/many blessings to have someone so invested in both her spiritual formation and also her Paris-touring comfort. 

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And while I'm thinking of it, I'll offer a piece of unsolicited advice. Everyone *always* loves unsolicited advice. Here goes: when hunting for friends, always choose someone who loves your babies as much as they love you. You can't go wrong. And your children will know they're loved by a village, which seems like a pretty important thing to me. More love = happier kids, right?

That's enough advice for one post.

We ended the sightseeing portion of our day with a pass through the Musée d'Orsay. I actually prefer the Musée d'Orsay to the Louvre, and yes, I realize how pretentious that sounds when said out loud. Or even read in your head. But I've said it, and it remains true. The Musée d'Orsay is smaller than the Louvre, so it's much more manageable in a single visit.

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While the Louvre has a plethora of famous older paintings (among other things), the Musée d'Orsay holds the largest collection of artwork from the impressionist and post-impressionist era, including paintings by Monet and Van Gogh. I particularly enjoyed/was amused by Monet's "Les Dindons," which is quite literally a portrait of turkeys on his patron's lawn. What's not to love? Elise also seemed to enjoy her jaunt around the museum.

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Oh, see that stroller? It is not ours. It belongs to the museum, and in order to use it, I had to leave them with my passport until we returned it. PLEASE TAKE NOTE OF THAT IMPORTANT DETAIL.

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While the art at the museum was gorgeous and probably worth discussing at length, what I really want to discuss is the hot chocolate I had at the museum cafe. It was hands down the best hot chocolate I have had to date, not only on this trip, but ever in my life. And that's saying a lot, because just on the trip I think I drank hot chocolate nearly every day. I mean, if you can't tell by my inability to put it down for a photo, just look at Elise's longing expression:

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Did I allow to her to have just a little bit of the whipped cream? Yes. Yes I did. Question my parenting choices all you want. We were in France. C'est la vie.

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We finished up our time at the museum with taking photos by one of the two large clocks on the fifth floor. These couple of minutes resulted in some of my favorite photos from the trip, so it was well worth taking our turn in the informal line of tourists who also wanted to take the same photo. 

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We returned the borrowed stroller in exchange for my passport and made the 40-minute trek back to our hotel for the night. Upon arrival at the hotel, the man at the front desk asked for my passport to check in, which is standard practice, and as I reached for it in its spot in the Ergo pocket, I realized it wasn't there. Not only was it not there, but I knew I had last seen it at the counter when I returned the stroller and had no memory of actually taking it. In addition, the museum was now closed, and our train to our next destination was scheduled to leave before the museum would open the following morning. Cue a solid 15 minutes of me trying to get ahold of anyone who might know someone able to enter a closed museum after hours to retrieve a passport within another locked area of the building in garbled French...chances were SLIM.

At the last moment, which was one of despair placated in the form of an exquisite chocolate-enshrouded more-chocolate mousse purchased at the patisserie next door, I reached into my coat pocket and unexpectedly withdrew the "missing" passport. I think it was actually miraculous.

I ended the night with a very tasty dinner with a friend I hadn't seen in a couple of years (hi, Sarah!), snapped a picture of the Louvre's pyramids under the moonlight on the way back, and went to bed feeling fat and happy. Although not too fat, because I'd walked over 19,000 steps that day. I'm sure that balanced out all the chocolate.

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I think that's quite enough for a single blog post. Tales of Colmar, Basel, and a return to Paris still need to be recounted, so if you haven't already keeled over in boredom, STAY TUNED.

How to Take a Baby Passport Photo

A few years ago - three years and a couple of months, to be exact - I needed a new passport thanks to my last name changing from Griffin to Woodstock. Aside: changing your name is wretched. And we're back.

I assumed that the way to get a passport photo was the normal way: you go to CVS, they take your photo, they print it, and you go on your merry way. So I did that, and I kid you not, it was quite literally the absolute worst photo of me I had ever (and still have ever) seen of myself in my entire life. Perhaps I should have just swallowed my pride and dealt with having a photo that reminded me more of a cow than myself on my ID for the next ten years of my traveling escapades, but I refused and decided then and there that I would take my own photos from thenceforth. I did, and I'm rather happy with how it eventually turned out.

However, taking a photo of oneself looking straight at the camera with enough of a smize to not look like a serial killer getting a mug shot done is one thing. Taking a similar photo of a baby is another one entirely. But in the interest of preserving Elise's self esteem for the next five years, I decided it was worth the sacrifice. 

The US photo requirements are many:

  • Your head must face the camera directly with your full face in view.
  • You must have a neutral facial expression or a natural smile, with both eyes open.
  • You must take a photo in clothing normally worn on a daily basis.
  • It must have a plain white or off-white background.
  • It must be a 2x2 inch square photo, with the head centered and between 25 and 35 mm from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.
  • You may not wear glasses, a hat, or any other head covering.
  • There may be no shadows.
  • You must be able to see both ears.

No big deal, right? It's not like kids move or look away from a camera or open their mouths all the time or anything. We got this.

First, I selected Elise's outfit with great care, despite the "normal clothing" requirement. She's somewhat hairless, after all, so I decided her shirt needed to be pink. I also decided that while she does/will wear it every day until her ear infection is gone, the Amoxicillin stain from the morning's dose should probably not be present. 

Next, I needed a plain white background with natural/bright light. Enter our cheap Ikea flat sheet and a rocking chair pulled next to the window.

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Though the room started to look like a pauper's version of Netherfield after the Bingleys returned to London, it did the job. 

I then needed a way to restrain Elise in the proper position in the chair without making her upset. I ask you...what are Bumbo seats for if not for that purpose?

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The only remaining necessary element was the baby, of course. I got her situated and gave her a ball to keep her hands occupied (and therefore out of the frame).

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After that, it was just a simple matter of getting the right photo. We started off strong.

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Maybe a little too much zoom. And movement. 

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Aha. I realized I needed to add a song and dance to keep her looking my direction.

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Gah, the thumb! She just thinks it's so delicious. Who needs a passport photo anyway?

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Ok, cute. But she moved again and made it blurry, and remember how you can't have an open mouth? Come on. And I'm not even going to address the snotty nose.

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Acceptable. And yet...the mug shot just wasn't doing it for me. Shouldn't the US border officials be able to surmise that she's not a baby criminal mastermind? I need them to be able to judge her character in five seconds or less, because obviously her passport photo is a reflection of my parenting abilities.

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AND THERE IT IS. Crop a little on either side, bump up the brightness, and we are in business. It only took me 53 shots, but we got it.

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Now, all I have to do is assemble her birth certificate, social security card, our marriage license, a printout of our airline tickets, and her baptism certificate, and both Chaz and I need to show up in person at the National Passport Center at our appointed time (which must be conveniently between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm Monday through Friday). The government, man. They like to make this so easy on us. 

But hey! Europe, we're coming your way, one official document checklist item at a time!