Oahu Travel with Toddlers: Our Favorites as a Family

At this point, our 14 month old has 15 flights and 15 hotels/rental houses under her tiny belt. I wouldn’t say it has gotten easier, but we all have learned –often the hard way– how to travel together, better. The most important lesson that we learned when traveling with her is to pick the right destination for her interests and stage in her development. We made a little checklist on where we can go now with our little energizer bunny and that is how we selected our big summer trip this year.

Note: It’s challenging to anticipate your child’s needs when you plan trips in advance because we don’t always know where they will be emotionally/physically/mentally in months from now, but it is important to make your best guess and adjust your destination around that finding. 

Braving the flight!

Our checklist for travel with Aurora at 14 months:

  1. Not too far by plane (under 5-6 hours direct)
  2. Lots of outdoor areas for play including water
  3. Relaxed atmosphere where most things will be nearby 
  4. Culture that embraces family life with lots of child friendly activities, hotels and dining

Where did we land?

HAWAII! Oahu to be exact. Just about 5.5 hours on one of my favorite airlines–Hawaiian (not an ad)– and we were in a warm, tropical, kid friendly paradise. Aurora’s favorite thing to do is touch, splash, drink or generally be immersed in water so that led us to be thinking of warmer climes with lots of pool and ocean possibilities. Oahu has the ideal mix of accessibility for kids, a really strong, welcoming culture and some of the most beautiful beaches that I’ve ever seen.  

We spent 7 full days on this island, exploring (in between naptime) and here’s our top list for best experiences with a toddler. 

 

OUTDOORS

WAIKIKI BEACH, HONOLULU

Beaching in front of Hilton Hawaiian Village

This may seem surprising but Oahu’s famous beach is also an ideal place for children. With Diamond Head soaring at one end, a lively vacation atmosphere, and the novice surfers catching waves further out, the whole beach feels iconically Hawaii.  Since these island are also known for warm water year round (during our late August the water was in the 80s) the temperature is extremely comfortable. The waves are gentle enough to be safe for young kids, under parental supervision. We could carry Aurora in passed the break and then use her swim floaties, or a small inflatable tube with leg holes, to help her float. 

The only drawback is this beach is naturally, very popular. To avoid the crowds and have more space, we loved spending time at the beach in front of the  Hilton Hawaiian Village. This is the widest stretch of beach and a bit away from the busiest central area of Waikiki so we could always find ample room for our towels and sand toys.

Beach chairs are available to rent but we spent most of the time in the water or digging in the sand, so it wasn’t necessary for us. 

The sand is very clean and quite soft but be careful as it can get HOT during the day. We always had Aurora in covered swim shoes while we were at the beach to protect those tootsies. 

 

SUNSET BEACH, NORTH SHORE

Just under an hour from Honolulu, the North Shore is home to world renowned big wave surfing. That doesn’t mean, however, that all of its beaches aren’t kid friendly. It just depends on the time of year. From May to September, waves are much smaller, making the North Shore beaches ideal for families. 

Sunset Beach is a pristine stretch that runs along Kamehameha Highway. It actually took my breath the two times that I’ve stopped here. The sunburnt coral sand, the vividly blue water, and the palm lined backdrop made this whole place feel like it was a dictionary definition of paradise.  There are no facilities nearby so pack what you need– especially water, towels, beach toys and sunscreen– so you can make the most of your time here. 

We drove up North early and arrived at Sunset Beach before 9am so we could enjoy two blissful hours of frolicking in the water, building sand castles and collecting seashells before the sun even reached its peak.  

 

DUKE KAHANAMOKU LAGOON,

HILTON HAWAIIAN VILLAGE WAIKIKI BEACH RESORT

I didn’t think that a man-made lagoon, set just off the real beach, would be where I’d want us to spend time but I was wrong! The Lagoon is actually a great place for families with young kids. For starters, there are no waves–just a very gradual incline. This allowed both my husband and I to sit on the sand and watch Aurora splash in the shallow water, without worry. She loved this independence as she freely walked around, sitting in the shallow water and giggling at the fish flitting near her toes.

The Lagoon is great for little mermaids

At the Lagoon, the Hilton Hawaiian Village also offers kayak, SUP, paddle boat and aqua biking rentals. We tried out the paddle boat and kayak, both with Aurora on board. The kayak turned out to be more kid friendly as it was easier to keep her sitting still on our lap since we didn’t have to paddle with our feet. 

 

EXPERIENCES

 

WAIKIKI AQUARIUM

I wasn’t sure how Aurora would react to her first aquarium visit but I was astounded by how much she loved every minute we spent here. The Waikiki Aquarium is set on the water next to a living reef and it 115 years old–the second oldest in the US. Though there are over 3000 marine specimens, inside it is not overwhelming and doable in a morning or afternoon. Inside, many tanks have padded ledges, allowing little ones to get a better view of the aquatic wonders in the tank.

A highlight was catching the octopus feeding, when we saw an incredible day octopus devour his shrimp and change colors just inches from us. We learned that he is given toys for enrichment and sometimes his food is given in a jar that he has to open–what!

Octopus Feeding

Aurora also was fascinated by the top predators tank, the largest in the aquarium, which gave an up close view of jacks, grouper and shark in the same space. I was amazed to see a chambered nautilus, a prehistoric species that has been unchanged for millions of years. 

Top Predators Tank

Outside, a rescued Hawaiian Monk Seal swam and played in the waters as Aurora happily clapped on in awe. The aquarium has attempted to reintroduce this monk seal back into the wild but the efforts have failed, so she’s happily hanging out in her habitat at the Aquarium and in doing so, sharing the plight of this critically endangered species. 

Details:

Adults are $12 and Children under 3 are free! 

Waikiki Aquarium Website

 

HONOLULU ZOO

Kid Petting Zoo

It’s hard to believe that there is a full zoo right in the heart of downtown Waikiki, but it is true. We stopped here after a healthy breakfast at nearby Da Cove. This was Aurora’s first zoo experience and she was very interested in all the wildlife especially the gibbons. Overall, highlights were the elephants, tiger and the rhino. There is also a petting farm and Aurora was able to pet some friendly goats. 

It’s not large and there are some renovations going on so certain exhibits were closed, however we felt it was still worth a stop especially with animal-loving kids!

Details:
Adults are $19, Children under 3 are free!

Honolulu Zoo Website

CULTURE

ALOHA FESTIVALS

For the entire month of September, Oahu hosts events, parades and festivals that celebrate Hawaiian culture, tradition and history. We were lucky enough to be in town for the opening ceremony and Royal Court Investiture. A new king, queen, prince and princess were crowned in a regal ceremony modeled after the historical ceremony of Hawaiian royalty. All of this took place on the lovely grounds of the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.   

Royal Investiture

Aurora loved the live music and hula that followed the Investiture. While she might not have understood the historical significance of this event, she was definitely interested in the bright costumes and lively atmosphere. 

Opening Ceremony for the Aloha Festivals

We won’t be in town for the following events, but the block party and flower parade look incredible!

All the Aloha Festivals are listed here

 

WAIKIKI STARLIGHT LUAU

A luau is more than just dinner and a show. It’s a chance for the whole family to learn more about Hawaiian culture through the stories, dance and music. The Waikiki Starlight Luau takes place at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, with a view of the ocean. 

Waikiki Starlight Luau

The children’s buffet was the right height for kids and had a lot of kid friendly options. The hula was wonderful and seeing Aurora try to dance along with the performers brought many smiles from onlookers. 

Details:

$111 Adults, $71 for Children 4-11, Children under 3 Free

Website: Waikiki Starlight Luau

 

DINING 

 

While there’s a lot of restaurants on Oahu that we have on the mainland, we found some incredible local fare that also worked well for young appetites. 

The Street Food Hall by Michael Mina

The 12 food stalls inside this modern, vibrant food hall has something for everyone at all hours of the day. We came here 4 separate times at different times of day–breakfast, lunch, happy hour and dinner!

Breakfast at Mi Almita

The food is prepared to order, using fresh ingredients and at affordable price points. They also have a  Street Party pass that allows you to sample 7 of the restaurant stalls and 3 of the bars, at a 

Burger Hale at The Street Food Hall

Our favorites were: 

  • The Myna Bird a tiki bar with great $5 piña coladas
  • Mi Almita for a delicious al fresco breakfast including mochi pancakes and loco moco
  • Burger Hale for sliders and hand cut fries–this was great especially for Aurora
  • Little Lafa for an easy grab and go savory lafa

    These piña coladas are incredible at The Myna Bird

Details: 

2330 Kalakaua Avenue, Suite 330
Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: The Street Social House

 

HIGHWAY INN

With local owners and a long legacy of serving up authentic food in an approachable setting, the Highway Inn is a must stop for those that want to taste real Hawaiian food. 

Local Specialties at Highway Inn

We stopped in the Kaka’ako location for lunch and tried out signature dishes like lau lau, poke and kalua pork. Each were rich, flavorful and different than we had anywhere else. Aurora was a fan of the lau lau and kalua pork and I couldn’t get enough of their sesame poke. The restaurant was packed, with local residents and tourists alike. If you are in the know, you come here.

Next time, we are coming for breakfast because we saw the pancakes go by and look amazing. 

Details:

680 Ala Moana Boulevard #105
Honolulu, HI 96813

Website: Highway Inn

 

da COVE HEALTH BAR and CAFE 

da Cove is another local favorite serving up fresh smoothies and juices, unique omelettes and a wide variety of acai bowls. For keiki, they offer omelettes and Aurora really liked the smoothies! We went to the location near Diamond Head, which is close to downtown.

Healthy spread at da Cove

Details

3045 Monsarrat Ave #5,
Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: da Cove Heath Bar and Cafe

 

Moku Kitchen

Family friendly restaurants can be COOL and that certainly is the case at Moku Kitchen. The busy atmosphere, wide variety of mouthwatering dishes and drinks and attention to kids here made Aurora and her parents very happy. I can’t say enough about the delicious food–I had a steak that I’ll never forget. However, I think Aurora had the most fun. They have table toys that they let you borrow to keep your little one occupied. When Aurora is occupied, her parents can relax. This restaurant understands the needs of families!

Details

660 Ala Moana Blvd,

Honolulu, HI 96813

Website: Moku Kitchen

 

ABC STORES

These “everything” shops are all over Honolulu and they helped us out on several occasions. From pool floaties, to organic milk, string cheese to fruit, they made it easy for us to grab what we needed on the go. There are so many locations, you will definitely see at least one. 

ABC Stores are so useful!

 

HOTELS

 

HILTON HAWAIIAN VILLAGE WAIKIKI BEACH RESORT 

If you have children, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Resort is resort is fantastic for your needs.  As mentioned above, the expansive property is on a wide stretch of beach, that is not trafficked by many others as it is the far end of Waikiki Beach. In addition to the Lagoon, there are multiple pool areas and even a pool with water slides. All the pools are very kid friendly and your child will have lots of other kids to play with!

Our view from the 14th floor of the Alii Tower

In addition to all the fun water experiences, the HHV also has well landscaped walkways, ponds and streams so just walking through the property is fun with children. There are ducks, turtles and all sorts of colorful fish to admire. Occasionally we could see several parrots and macaws that had their own areas in the center of the resort. 

Exploring the HHV grounds

We stayed in the Ali’i Tower, which made this large resort feel a bit more intimate. This tower has its own check-in and concierge, as well as priority seating at some restaurants. It’s also very centrally located on this widespread property, making it a breeze to walk to the restaurants, shops, pools and beach. Guests in this tower even have access to their own pool, restaurant and bar on the second floor. This unique access made it easy for us to take a quick dip in the pool, grab some food or always find an available lounge chair. 

The living room of our suite.

Our room was great for Aurora. It was a king suite on a high floor so our view was astounding. There was no balcony, which we preferred, as balconies with kids can be scary. A crib was provided and the living room, 2 bathrooms and bedroom were very spacious. The mini refrigerator was crucial for storing milk and snacks for Aurora. We converted the desk area to her changing area. We were in a suite so the two rooms was a lifesaver for us when Aurora napped and went to bed. We were able to eat takeout, watch tv and move about in our own room. 

Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort

2005 Kalia Road

Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: HHV

 

THE LAYLOW

For a more boutique experience with that just exudes style, The Laylow is a special find in Waikiki. The stylish coffee bar and open air restaurant, Hideout Waikiki, is a huge draw unto themselves, but for kids, the POOL is definitely the place to be. Daily free shave ice and frozen fruit treats are offered complimentary. There are lounge beds in the water which turned out to be endless fun for our little climber. 

Great beds at The Laylow

The rooms have retro Hawaiian vibe that I really enjoyed and since we opted for a Corner Suite, we had a separate area that worked well for Aurora’s crib, which the hotel provided. The was ample space and two balconies with views. 

Daily free shave ice by the pool

The location is excellent as well. Just next to the International Marketplace, we were steps from many dining options, shops and coffee, as well as just a five minute scenic walk to the beach. Valet parking handles the cars and were very efficient, so it was easy to come and go when were headed out on an adventure. 

Hanging out on the open air roof deck of Hideout

Details:

The Laylow, Autograph Collection

2299 Kuhio Ave,

Honolulu, HI 96815

Website: The Laylow

 

Oahu has hands down been one of our best trips as a family — and that is a BIG STATEMENT since traveling with a toddler is very challenging. We definitely had our share of difficulties–Aurora caught a sickness, she battled jetlag and we had some napless days. But what mattered the most is we were able to spend so much quality time together–whether getting tickled on the bed, splashing in the surf or gazing at the multicolored sunsets each evening. Oahu just made it easy to enjoy our time with each other. It’s so naturally interesting and beautiful, even just a walk together was fun. We found it so easy to get around, restaurants were beyond accommodating to children and if we ran out of swim diapers/sunscreen/milk, there was always a place to grab it close by. The local Hawaiians we met were so kind to us, and showered Aurora with love, it made us feel truly at home here.  The aloha spirit is still in our hearts back at home and I feel that our family bond was only strengthened by this trip together.

Waikiki Sunsets

 

Luxury Getaway for Families in Los Cabos, Mexico [VIDEO]

I can’t say enough about this resort. The Montage Los Cabos is the ultimate luxurious getaway for families.

A sandy beach, plethora of pools and mouthwatering dining– the new Montage Los Cabos is luxury family travel at its FINEST. On my first trip to Cabo, we brought our 11 month old toddler to this resort, located right on the tourist corridor, in hopes of some rest and relaxation for us parents. I had no idea what to expect from Los Cabos, and what we found was beyond all expectations. Turns out, this property knows how to make families feel so welcome.

Some highlights & recommendations:
-All kids are greeted with a wagon full of stuffed animals for their choosing
-The beach is NOT rocky–very swimmable with gentle waves for little ones
-There is an awesome kids pool and sand area
-The Paintbox Kids center is super fun and has a daily schedule of activities
-We opted for the 1 bedroom King Suite, which had a sliding door that separated the living area from the bedroom, allowing us to have the lights on during our daughter’s naps and early bedtime
-The Montage has recommended babysitters for a much deserved night out
-The Spa Montage is another MUST for the grown ups–get a treatment or just lounge in the serenity pool!

Flying with a Toddler: 15 Tips for Airplane Travel with Baby

Flying is not always easy as an adult. There are constant delays, airport traffic, annoying seatmates, shrinking legroom and an overall lack of gates available (am I right?!). 

All that aside, flying as an adult WITHOUT a baby is pretty much… a luxury. Few things are more stressful than an unhappy, non-sleeping baby when you are on a plane. I look back at my “bad” flights pre-baby, they were nothing compared to what we deal with now. 

I’ve taken Aurora on 15 flights at this point, from 2 months to 13 months. Each flight throughout the year has had its own challenges and good surprises. However, now flying with a toddler definitely has been the most…active….

 

Here are my 15 best recommendations to make you and your little one a little bit happier while flying. ***Each tip and product has been vetted by me or a close parent friend, so these won’t lead you astray. 

Also remember: traveling with your little one is always worth it!

 

  1. Dress Toddlers comfortably

 

Don’t put on the cute dress or stiff baby jeans–put on the comfiest, loose cotton outfit that completely covers legs and arms. For Aurora, that looks like a long sleeve cotton dress from Splendid and leggings, her comfiest sneakers and thin socks. I forgo any bows because they will get lost. 

 VERY IMPORTANT: bring at least one extra change of clothes for the inevitable blowout or stained shirt. I usually rollup 2 additional comfy outfits in my carryon. I also carry jacket or sweater, extra socks and a hat.

 

  1. Only a Carryon Backpack 

Did you know that you get an EXTRA carry on bag when you are flying with a child? That means, the parent gets one personal item and one carryon + one additional bag. 

If flying solo (without spouse or friend or grandparent): Bring one roller carryon and one well thought out carryon bag. Any more than that and your hands will be too full because remember, you always need at least one hand to carry your toddler/hold their hand/  grab them out of harm’s way. In this bag, put the essentials and make them easy to grab (aka. Don’t over jam or you’ll never be able to reach in with one hand and grab what you need).

You also will benefit from putting bottle, water cups, a wrapped snack and wipes in the out pockets for easy grabbing. 

I use this backpack here and have been pretty happy with it. 

 

  1. Fanny Packs are your NEW BFF

Personally, I have always liked fanny packs, but no matter your style preferences, know that a fanny pack is a lifesaver when traveling with a toddler. You can keep your passports, tickets, your phone and one credit card on you for easy access as you go through the airport. Rather than stopping to take off your backpack or fishing around a diaper bag, this streamlines things and keeps you from losing your items (or losing your toddler). 

 

  1. Keep Your Toddler WALKING Pre-Flight

You’ll need to have your baby in the stroller (or be wearing them) until you get close to your gate since we all know that toddlers aren’t the quickest or most efficient walkers. But when you get near your gate, find a quiet area and let your toddler out. Let them walk and wander and expend a lot energy. And expect them to make lots of friends.

This can be tough if you don’t have a partner to watch your things but when I fly solo with Aurora I ask the most trustworthy looking person to watch my bags and have my valuables on me (fanny pack!) so off we go. The more energy the expend before the flight, the happier everyone will be. 

 

  1. Bring a BAG to Cover your Checked Stroller

I’ve used my Bugaboo Chameleon and my Doona carseat/stroller while traveling and both have to be checked at the gate. Twice I forgot a bag to at least cover the seat part of my Bugaboo stroller. That was a mistake. The seat came back dusty and dirty both times (who knows what was piled on top of them). Just bring a large bag to cover the seat part to at least have a barrier. Once you disembark, you won’t have time to clean it before popping your baby in. 

 

  1. Use CLEAR Water & Milk Straw Cups (or go through with empty cups!)

I wish I had realized this but if the cup is clear, the security will not need to open the bottle. They can visually examine then maybe swab the item. If the item is not translucent, they need to open the bottle and look inside, then swab the air above. I didn’t love this because you are worried that they are going to touch the inside of your cup (ew) and also it takes MORE TIME. 

Note: if you want to save time in security, go through with empty cups and buy water and milk on the other side. Now that we are off of breastmilk (which I’d NEVER dump), it’s now almost worth skipping the extra security check and getting what you need on the other side. 

 

  1. Download TV shows on your iPhone AHEAD of time

I can’t tell you how grateful I am that Netflix allows you to download kids TV shows (for free) to your device. Llama Llama, Daniel Tiger and Little Baby Bum episodes truly saved us from complete meltdowns when even the onboard televisions weren’t cutting it. At 12/13 months old, airplane movies and tv shows are often too slow or complex–meant for older children. Find a couple shows that your child likes and have them easily accessible. 

Note: We try to have no screen time in our everyday lives, save for a few minutes every other day to help us achieve a goal (stay in the highchair a little longer, cut fingernails, sit at restaurant longer etc). When you limit this at home, it becomes that much more mesmerizing when you bust it out on a plane!

 

  1. Bring Kid Sized Headphones

I did not bring these last time and it was a mistake. Aurora would have enjoyed the inflight entertainment more if she could have heard the sounds, songs and words. These headpphones have been highly rated and are one of the few that fit little ones around 1 year old.

Note: They don’t have a limit to volume like some others, so make sure it’s not too loud! 

 

  1. Pack “Never Before Seen” Toys In Your Carryon

I try to bring at least 1 or 2 brand new toys that Aurora hasn’t seen before. I time the opening when she is getting fussy and make a big deal out of it. It’s helpful to choose something that has a lot to look at so you can show her things, talk about it and kill a lot of time with the toy. You don’t want anything with lots of pieces that can fall or that is too heavy. 

This Magnetic Doodler can occupy LOTS of time

Some toys that have worked for us on planes are: 

 

  1. Bring SUPER lightweight Books

Books (especially Indestructibles)

All books are lifesavers while traveling but they can be really HEAVY. However, I’ve found these Indestructible books which are paper thin and SUPER lightweight so you can pack quite a few in your bag. They are inexpensive and can even be washed in the washing machine (and don’t tear) — perfect for flights. 

 

  1. Go “Excursions” in the Aisles

This is inevitable. You’ll have to do laps of the aisles if your little one is energetic. To make this more manageable, go slow, say hi to people and then stop and waste time in the galley (until you get a dirty look from the flight attendant). The purpose of this is to keep them standing, moving and getting tired. 

 

  1. UPGRADE if you can

I mentioned this in previous posts but the bulkhead seats in economy can be wonderful because they give you so much extra legroom–enough for your toddler to stand, sit and even lay down. 

Bulkhead seats are GREAT

If that isn’t available, it might be worth the splurge for business class or an improved economy class. You’ll want to be near the front of the plane to get off quicker and have closer access to bathrooms. Every extra inches of legroom means a happier baby.

Lots more space in business class

Note: We haven’t purchased an extra seat for Aurora yet as she is under 2, but we might consider it in the future. 

 

  1. Make a comfy sleep area

This inflatable cube footrest pillow can turn a seat into a lie flat bed for your little one. Inflate it on board and put it on the floor next to your child’s seat.

Note: this only works if you have an extra seat for your little one.

This specific one has been used & approved by a fellow traveling mama. 

 

14. Organize your space

Make sure wet wipes, at least one snack, water bottle and hand sanitizer is within reach at all times. I suggest taking these items out and putting them in the seatback pocket. This is especially key if you are in the bulkhead and have to put your diaper bag in the overhead compartment on landing and take off.

 

15. No Mess, Easy To Serve SNACKS

Now that your toddler is eating most things, this is a great distraction! Think about your kid’s favorite foods–the ones that he/she will always shove into their mouth and pack those in ziplock bags or small reusable containers.

I try to bring the LEAST messy snacks as possible so here is my go to list: 

    • Mini mozzarella cheese balls (ciligine)
    • String Cheese
    • Cooked Pasta 
      • Pick a shape that doesn’t need to be cut (wagon wheels, shells or fusilli usually work well)
      • Avoid red sauce: olive oil or cheese sauce is better
    • Cooked Sweet Potato
      • Chunks, whole or slices
    • Cooked Chicken/Steak
      • A simple cooked protein in slices usually is easy and mess free
    • Avocado
      • A little messy but Aurora eats it so quickly, I can usually avoid mess
    • Once Upon a Farm Pouches
      • These need to be refrigerated after 8 hours so give earlier in the trip if it is a long one. Also, pick a flavor that doesn’t stain like Sun Shiny Strawberry Patch  (avoid the Goldy Mango & 3 Coconuts flavor because the turmeric stains)
    • Puffed Snack
      • Hippeas
      • Bambo
      • Puffins Cereal 
    • Crackers
      • Late July Peanut Butter Crackers are great
    • Blueberries
    • Strawberries
      • Avoid blackberries or raspberries! Messy!
    • Pears
    • Pineapple Chunks
    • Mango
    • Dried fruit 
  • Creamies
    • I try to limit the processed stuff like Happy Baby Creamies but on a plane, these can work wonders!

 

I hope these tips help your next flight and take some of the fear/pain/anxiety out of flying with a toddler. It’s not easy but it’s worth it!

Feel free to share your tips too!

Travel While Breastfeeding: How to Bring Milk Home

Picture this. You are a mom and you are breastfeeding, but work/family/etc requires that you to travel internationally. For most Americans, an international trip means a trip longer than 3 days.

Now here comes the problem: breastmilk can only be safely refrigerated for around 4 days (some say 3, some say 5, so I’ve settled on 4). You can’t guarantee shipping since breastmilk will get stopped at customs. So you either dump your milk or you come up with another solution.

I found that solution.

I had the opportunity to go to Switzerland for work. The trip was short, 7 days total, including the 14+ hours of flights. It was an important project professionally and personally since my parents were actually involved in our video shoot. What did I do? I went!

AND I GOT ALL MY BREASTMILK BACK SAFELY.

Here’s how:

(Read my Blog about Breastfeeding during International Travel for the full checklist)

 

Keeping Cool During Transit

When I pumped on the plane, I stored all my milk in this refrigerated backpack. I used a Cooler Shock freezer pack in this backpack, which is guaranteed to stay cold for 24 hours (AND IT DOES). This set up allowed me to get my expressed milk to the hotel during my trip there, and home during my return, perfectly chilled.

My backpack with my milk and everything I needed to pump on the go

Freeze Half, Refrigerate Half

While in Switzerland, I pumped 4x daily and put the milk in the in-room mini fridge. However, I needed to FREEZE some milk and REFRIGERATE the rest. Since I was there for 7 days, my goal was to freeze all the milk from Day 1-3 and then carry home the refrigerated milk Day 4-7.

How to Freeze Half

My first hotel, the Four Seasons des Bergues in Geneva, was gracious enough to let me borrow a freezer in my room. Now I don’t expect that this is common but it is worth asking. This is the ideal scenario. In order to move my milk from hotel to hotel, I used the Cooler Freezer Bags mentioned above, and a cooler bag.

Hotels will also usually let you store important items in their freezer. My second hotel in Vevey allowed me to store my cooler bag in their freezer. I zipped it up and told them it was very fragile, needed to be upright and shouldn’t be opened. When I needed to add milk, I waited until the end of the day and added all the new milk at once.

How to Refrigerate Half

Your in-room mini fridge is your new best friend. I removed all the items that I was able too from it (like waters etc) and left a note that I needed to use the refrigerator to store things. I was now refrigerating milk from the second half of the trip up until day of departure.

Now on departure day, I had around 50 ounces of milk that I had to take on two flights, a train and an uber before it would arrive home with me. To keep this milk perfectly refrigerated during this time, I used Milk Stork.

 

Transporting Frozen and Refrigerated Milk Home

Now that you have your full trip’s worth of milk, the hardest part is getting all of it home in usable condition. Here’s how I managed to get 100 ounces home safely, half frozen and half refrigerated.

Milk Stork is Your Best Friend

Milk Stork took care of the refrigeration part easily. Domestically, Milk Stork allows you to FedEx your milk home. However, shipping breastmilk internationally is a different story. Their service allows you a safe, guaranteed refrigerated situation where you can check your box of breast milk and know that it’ll be just a cold when you pick it up at baggage claim on the other side.

At the time of ordering my Milk Stork package on their website, I put in my hotel address and when I arrived, a box was waiting for me in my room in Switzerland! No need to worry about carrying anything on the plane with you there.

Milk Stork provided me with refrigerated box that could hold 108 ounces of milk and keep it refrigerated for 90 hours (if your trip home takes longer than that, then… you might be going to the Moon and back). They also gave me a cute duffle bag to put the box in, with branded luggage tags.

I was able to pack in the newer milk from the second half of my trip in the refrigerated Milk Stork box. On my departure day, I just had to pop the button on the box to activate the refrigeration, pack in my bagged milk, seal the box and place it in the duffle bag. I brought the bag to the check-in counter and checked it right there. Milk Stork made it so easy and boarded the flight, relieved.

When I got to my final destination, my bag of milk came out the other side, untouched. In the future, I’d suggest putting a twist tie or a luggage lock on it if you want to make doubly sure it was not opened.

Carry On your Frozen Milk

*THIS IS HEAVY.

If you are a mom, there’s a good chance that you have some serious arm muscles, but this definitely is difficult even so. Frozen milk is heavy.

The upside is that most securities around the world do not care if your liquid is frozen. I didn’t even have to show them or explain anything in Geneva or Zurich.

I used my AO Cooler bag with the Freezer Packs. I made sure to use at least 2 Freezer Packs (use more if you can fit them). The bagged milk needs to be touching the freezer pack.

I carried it onboard and put it in the overhead. My total travel time was over 20 hours and when I got home, all the milk was still mostly frozen and a few were a little slushy. From my research, if it is mostly frozen, it is still safe. Into the freezer it went and we’ve been using it all ever since.

Happy Baby waiting for me at home!

Are you planning on traveling while breastfeeding? Leave me a note if you have questions!

How to Travel Internationally While Breastfeeding

You can go abroad without your baby & still continue breastfeeding!


At 11 months, I have traveled internationally with my daughter and without. Both are rewarding and positive experiences, yet both require A LOT of planning and having the right tools.

I recently traveled to Switzerland for work for one week — WITHOUT my daughter. She was 10.5 months at the time and I didn’t want to end our breastfeeding journey just because I had to be away. My goals were to make sure that she had enough breastmilk at home (we were at around 18 oz per day) to pump while there to keep up my supply to continue when I returned and to bring all my expressed milk home safely (it is liquid gold, people!).

Trust me, it wasn’t easy. I was on a video shoot so I had to be out all day. I pumped in the bathroom mountaintop, in the bathroom of a Swiss fondue chalet, a family/nursery pumping room at Zurich airport and the worst–the  airplane bathroom twice there and twice back. Ugh!

Mobile Pumping station!

SPOILER ALERT: I got all my expressed milk from the entire week back home safely AND my daughter is still breastfeeding (oh, and I had a very successful trip)! It was definitely a lot of work but with careful planning and consistency, it worked! Here’s how I did it

1. LEAVE A HUGE SUPPLY

Yes, this may be the most challenging part. I needed exactly 140 ounces for Aurora to have enough breast milk while away. I was able to leave exactly that–to the ounce– and not a drop more. Luckily I didn’t have any travel delays because when I came home, we was ready for her feeding and we were out of frozen milk.

To do this, I made sure not to dip into any of our current frozen supply. I was very cautious to always be around to feed her 4x per day.

I also did some pumping before bed, after her last feed. This wasn’t ideal as I was usually exhausted and had to wait till around 11pm for my breasts to “refill” but it did help give us an extra 25 ounces or so.

I also did some middle of the night pumping. I made sure to have all my pump parts ready to go and the breastpump plugged in and set up near the couch. I’d sneak out to the living room around 2/3am and pump for 10 minutes. Though this is brutal, it often yields the most milk at that time as you are completely full from the last feed so it is very efficient. Sometimes it’d only be a 5-6 minute pump to get 8/9 ounces.

2. MAKE A BACKUP PLAN IF YOU RUN OUT OF MILK

Aurora has never had formula to date but I knew that if something happened — delays, growth spurts — and she needed more milk than we had, I had to have a backup. I researched and decided to get a container of Holle formula, from Holland. Holle (and also Hipp) are among the best out there. They are organic and have complete nutrition and not a lot of the bad stuff. This was the site that I used.

Whatever formula that you choose to have, have something there and brief the caregivers on how to use it.

3. USE MILK STORK

If you aren’t familiar, Milk Stork is a MUCH NEEDED service that sends a refrigerated box to your hotel room ahead of time. When you arrive, you can put all your expressed milk in the refrigerator box, pop the refrigeration on, pack it up and FedEX will come grab it and get it to your home overnight. They also have a Pump & Tote service where you carry the breastmilk as a carryon on the plane in a refrigerated box. However, all this works for domestic travel only.

I was excited to find out that they just launched an INTERNATIONAL service. I ordered the 108 ounce box and it arrived a few days early to the Four Seasons Geneva. When I checked in, it was sitting there waiting.

On my day of departure, I activated the refrigerated box, packed away my sealed milk. Close it up and carried to the airport checkin counter. From there I checked it and picked up at my destination. The refrigeration lasts for 90 hours so I wasn’t even too worried about delays. It was a huge relief!

4. ORDER ALL THAT YOU NEED AHEAD

Planning ahead is key to this whole thing working out because when you are in a different country, Amazon Prime might not have your back.

MY CHECKLIST

FOR STORING MILK ON THE GO:

HEAVY DUTY BOOBY BAGS

I brought 2 sets of bottles for the pumping but I had to have bags to store the many ounces that I was accruing throughout the trip.

I have used a lot of different types and these Booby Bags are by far the best. They are thick plastic and have a double seal. I think they hold more milk than other bags too.  I also think the name Booby Bags is funny, so it always makes me giggle when I see it. 🙂

FOR KEEPING MILK FROZEN/COOL:

Cooler Shock Freeze Packs

These were the key to it all. I was worried that the freezer packs would “lose their cool” and these did not. Ever. They last for basically days. I have no idea what is in them but I do know that once you pour water into them, you put them in the freezer for 24 hours (or as many as you can). After that, they are frozen solid for at least a full day out, if not longer.


The great thing is they are completely flat when not filled with water. I order the 4 pack so I filled one to use for the flight there and I packed the other 3 for the return. I ended up only using 2 for the return because they were that good. Buy these. Trust me they are amazing.

These kept my frozen milk FROZEN in a cooler bag. And for non frozen milk, they kept it very chilly for the entire travel day. Learn why I decided to freeze some of my milk while traveling and how I did it in this post here.

FOR TRANSIT WITH MILK

BACKPACK FREEZER BAG

This is your best friend for long travel. Walking through airports and getting to your hotel can be taxing as it is so I knew I wanted to have my hands free and all my frozen/refrigerated milk on my back. I did a lot of research and the Tourit Cooler backpack was the best one that I found. After using it, I can attest to how cold it kept everything, how comfortable it was and honestly, how stylish it looked! For a cooler backpack, it was kind of sleek!

DUFFLE COOLER BAG

This is one of the most highly reviewed cooler/freezer bags on the market. It is guaranteed to keep the contents cool for a very long time–and it did. The AO bag is made of a thick material and I could fit a good amount of milk in there.

Remember to account for the space that the freezer pack will take up as they are quite large when full and frozen. I had to discard one that didn’t fit, but I managed to get 2 freezer packs in along with 4 days of frozen milk.

Note: This bag will be very heavy. I definitely pulled something in my forearms lugging this home.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The reason that I brought both was because I wasn’t sure if one would work better or the other. I also wasn’t sure if I needed a backup plan and wanted to prepared. In the future, I’d pack only one or the other. The backpack was easier to carry but I think the Duffle kept the contents colder. Your call based on the length of your trip. I used the Duffle for FROZEN milk so that was important to me.

For Pumping in Transit:

MANUAL HAND PUMP

If all else fails, this little hand pump will get you through and it’s small and super easy to pack.

Medela Battery Pack

This was a lifesaver so I didn’t have to hand pump. It requires 8 AA batteries but it worked well all over. It is small and lightweight. I recommend bringing extra batteries in case they are drained but in my week of using it a few times a day, I did not need any new batteries.

POCKET FREEZER BAG

This little leopard print bag was the perfect size and inconspicuous look for me to carry it to/from the bathroom and have it popped in my bag while I was out. It has water built in so you just need to freeze it the night before you take it out for the day.

Note: it doesn’t stay frozen long and your milk will get warm if it is longer than 6 hours or so. I found this okay for my days out but it didn’t work well on the plane as my flight was 12 hours.

It only holds 1 very full bag or 2 less full bags. That is the one downside. If you need more, you can get this one below that is from the same company. It is shaped more like a lunchbox so a little less convenient to carry in a purse but it definitely holds more and keeps bottles secure if you aren’t using bags.

SANITIZING WIPES

Now for pumping on the go, you might not have access to soap and hot water. The most convenient thing to have in your pocket are these Medela Wipes. They sanitize all the parts and pieces on contact and allow you to use them again, without ever needing water. Very handy.

For Pumping at your destination

Plugs and Converters

INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL ADAPTER VOLTAGE CONVERTER

Many destinations across the globe have different outlets and different voltages. This is key if you are planning on using a breast pump that connects to the wall. **Don’t make the mistake that I did in Italy on my first trip while pumping. I fried my breastpump day 1 and then had to hand pump the rest of the trip. Non bene.

I was traveling to Switzerland and since the voltage and plugs, I ordered a converter strip so that I plug several things in at once. It worked like a charm!

This was my converter  and it works  in 150 countries, including the UK, Europe and Asia. I can promise that it will not fry your breast pump if you make sure that it apply to where you are going  (and if you have the Medela Pump in Style 2 like I do).

EXTRAS PUMP PARTS

I brought one extra set of each part of my breastpump.I didn’t need them but I was glad that I had them.

  • Extra Flanges
  • Extra Breast Shields
  • Extra Bottles
  • Extra Pump Valves (the yellow things)

I hope this post helps you plan your next trip! Please leave any questions, tips or comments below.

Unique Baby Brands that I Love

I kept a short list of my favorite baby brands in a notes document on my phone. I decided it was time to make this into a blog post and share some of my faves with you all.

Coco Moon Hawaii

A brand with a real sense of identity, Coco Moon Hawaii is a truly Hawaiian company. I fell in love with it when I stumbled upon the softest swaddle I had ever felt while on my babymoon in Kauai. Back on the mainland, I researched and found that Coco Moon’s prints are created by Hawaiian artists and their bamboo material is buttery soft.

In addition to their swaddles, I am a big fan of their sheets and bath towels.

 

Wild Wawa

Photo by @justyolive

Neutral tones and sweet motifs like rainbows–wild wawa is a far cry from a lot of the super bright kid brands out there. There’s something really wholesome about their style that makes me want to be a kid again to wear these adorable clothes.

 

 

Oeuf

I can’t get enough Oeuf. All their products are very cute and unique–and eco friendly to boot. The clothing is made by a group of female knitters in Peru and Bolivia and all their furniture is designed in Europe (so you’ll use them for a long time!). This brand tends to be pricey so I feel like I shop here for more of a statement piece rather than the run-of-the-mill, everyday stuff. However, as you can see from things like this bunny hoodie, their products are worth it.

 

Cheeky Chickadee

This Australian company has some of the cutest animal prints around. The sizes are a bit tough (out of about 5 things, 2 didn’t fit well because of narrow cuts) but I loved the other pieces so much it was worth it.

 

Egg Baby

My favorite long sleeve zipper pajamas for Rory come from Egg and I don’t know how, but she’s been able to wear them for so long! They stretch well, are easy to get on and super adorable. Egg’s fun prints and high quality mean that I will probably be buying from here for Aurora well into her older years.

 

Monica & Andy

Aurora on the left in Monica and Andy

I’m a sucker for clever prints and I fell head over heels for all the beachy prints that they used to have (seashells, mermaids). However, the prints are only for a limited time so follow their IG to see the new ones. I have to say, the new tulips and pretzels are pretty cute too.

 

Angel Dear

Angel Dear pjs

 

WOW SOFT! Angel Dear is my go-to for Aurora’s beloved lovees (we have the monkeys). But did you know that they made clothing? And their clothing is so cute and soft? I was gifted some and now love putting her in them. I can tell she likes how soft they are!

 

Hanna Andersson

More well known but this brand is high quality. The prints aren’t for everyone and I only like some (especially the stripes) but I’ll keep this brand in the mix because of their comfy fits and great sweatsuits.

 

Zara Baby

A bit more mainstream, Zara actually has amazing clothes for kids. Very stylish, good price point and easy fits make this a good every day staple. Like they do with their adult lines, they are very much about the ‘trend of the minute’ but a much more affordable way to get your little one in that cute animal print but not break the bank on it.

 

Spearmint Love

From Spearmint Love Instagram: @victoriamcfall

This store carries a lot of my favorites brands and has been a great way for me to discover new ones. Plus the site is designed really well. With Easter coming up, I am all about their Easter shop.

 

Maisonette

Like Spearmint Love, this is another one stop shop that has a well curated bevy of clothing and gear brands for kids. I love their Toys section as it is a great list.

 

Pacapod

I carry my diaper bag every day and now usually don’t even have an extra bag for my things. These beautiful bags from the British Pacapod are so functional yet stylish. I love how they don’t scream “mom” when you wear them out. The idea behind the included “pods” is too keep everything organized, which is so helpful when this bag carries everything from socks to sunscreen, diapers to snacks. Mine is the Fortuna, one of the Luxury bags, complete with the map pods that I am OBSESSED with–link to it here.

 

Do you have any other favorite brands that I didn’t mention? Please share! 

Some featured brands are sponsors, however I strongly stand behind all my recommendations!

How to do Easy, Fun, Local Trips with Babies

As new parents, you are home more than you’ve ever been. And if you are anything like me, you’ll get stir crazy. I also am very used to traveling a couple times per month, so this whole “staying home” thing gets to me quicker than most.

I’ve found that in lieu of longer trips, which take a lot of mental and physical preparation, as well as the return adjustment period; easy, local trips are the way to go. You want to avoid planes, time changes and long car rides–especially if you have a baby that doesn’t love being in the car (ours does NOT).

Find a Nearby Destination

For us, that means locations that are 2 hours or less in driving distance from Santa Monica. Luckily, we have lots of great options. We can do the desert, the beach, the moutains and lots of unique places in between. This is a major reason why we moved to California!

 

So far for our local trips, we’ve taken Aurora to (not counting anything on a plane):

Venice (3 weeks)

Lake Arrowhead (2 months)

Idyllwild (5 months)

Huntington Beach (6 months)

Newport Beach (8.5 months)

 

Book an Upgraded Room

Okay, so you’ve found that perfect location but what do you now? Renting a hotel room works but realize that if you are going to share one room with your little one, you will need to have lights out at bedtime. This means, you also will either go to bed at 7pm or you will have to tiptoe around and hang out in the dark. Not the best option (though we’ve done that in Huntington and let’s just say, we ate room service in the bathroom… not awesome). If you are going with the hotel route, definitely upgrade your room so you can have a separate room with a door where your baby can sleep peacefully while you order room service in the other room.

 

Book a House

Usually more affordable option, and often more comfortable, is booking a house. Even if you book a tiny bungalow or a 1 bedroom, you’ll be able to let your baby nap in a separate room. This means that you can actually enjoy nap times and also, have a nice dinner, watch a movie and basically take advantage of all that sleeping time to relax with your partner. You also will have a kitchen, which is very helpful for baby food preparation and cooking in.

 

 

Get a Babysitter

Now I have never done this, but I imagine that if you feel comfortable with a hotel babysitter service or finding a local person to babysit, that is a great option for you to have a day or evening out. Personally, I would be a little hesitant to do this unless I brought someone with me to babysit. However, if it were a vetted person that was provided by the hotel, I would consider it. If this doesn’t feel comfortable to you, skip this tip and read below.

 

Go with the Baby’s Schedule

Like all travel now, it will revolve around your baby’s daily schedule. We are on the two nap a day schedule so for us, our day looked like this:

7am: Wake Up

7-10am: Breakfast for baby, cooking breakfast for parents, play time, coffee and hanging out

10am-11:30am: Nap time for baby/Parents could clean (yay!), relax, watch tv or one person could go out for a bit

11:30-2:30: Feed baby then out the door. We used this 3 hour window to explore and have lunch out. One day we walked around Balboa and Aurora got way too many presents at the toy store. The other day we took the ferry over to Balboa Park and checked out the silly rides, walked to the beach and found a playground and found a nice lunch spot.

230-4ish: Baby Naps somewhere in here. Parents relax or one person goes out. 

4-6pm: Sunset stroll. We either put her in the stroller or baby carrier and took a nice walk around the neighborhood. Afterwards, we brought her back for play time, dinner, bath and bed. *Note: the stroll is better with wine.

7pm: Bedtime for baby. Dinner and fun time for parents!

Sunset stroll

 

Have a Stay Home Date

On our recent trip to Newport Beach, I knew that we were going to be spending a lot of time in our Airbnb. We were staying on Balboa Island, which is pretty quiet anyway, so we were looking forward to our nights in.

To make these nights a little more exciting, I decided that we should each take “charge” of a night. The person in charge had to come up with a theme, get the groceries ahead and cook the dinner. (Cleaning up is a bonus!) They must inform the other person of the theme and any “dress code.” Also, if games or movies are involved, be prepared!

Coconut Shrimp

My husband took the first night and went with a James Bond theme as he knows my obsession with Bond movies. We both dressed up, even though we were just in our rental home’s dining room, and drank shaken martinis and ate steaks. We washed it down with a Bond movie.

Night two was my night– I went with a tiki theme and made coconut shrimp, teriyaki pork and had a speciality rum drink. I brought some island decor and sourced local shrimp while down there. With the reggae on, we enjoyed a “tropical” evening, despite the fact that it was raining outside.

A little cheesy? Sure! But if you aren’t able to leave the house, you might as well mix it up and make the nights memorable and different from your usual nights in at home.

 

Try not to Bring a Lot

I say try, because I know that this is hard. It is harder to pack for a baby when you are driving because you are able to pack more! Here’s some advice after overpacking and being buried alive in the car a few too many times.

  • Wash Clothes
    • If you have rented a house, count on the washing machine to save you from bringing too much clothes. If not, I brought dreft packets for some sink washing.
  • No tub
    • Check out the sink and bathtub situations and if you can avoid bringing a bathtub, do it. Those things are huge.
  • Bring a clip on high chair.
  • Limit toys.
    • Your baby will be in a new place so that is very exciting already and there’s lots to explore. I have lost so so so many toys on trips.
  • Bring outlet covers.
    • You can’t babyproof a whole hotel room or house, but I did wish I had a few extra things like outlet covers, especially now that we have a very fast crawler.
  • Bring pre-made baby food
    • I didn’t want to be blending my own baby food there and didn’t know what sort of kitchen utensils they’d have, so I brought a freezer pack that had all my own baby food ready to go. I made a few ahead and put them in these small food containers.
    • I also brought along my favorite freshly made purées from Yumi and these excellent fresh pouches from Once Upon a Farm. Both require refrigeration so be sure to get a good size freezer pack for the ride.

Trust me, these little local trips are worth it! They are good for your mental health, your relationship and it is good for your little one to see and do new things! I know Aurora was very excited the whole time and enjoyed all the “new” around her. The more you travel with them, the easier it gets for all of you!

Speaker at the LA Travel & Adventure Show: Where to Go in 2019

It was such a blast to be asked back to speak at the LA Travel & Adventure show this past Saturday. This is my third time speaking there and I think it was the best!

Photo by Tanveer Badal

I focused on the top places to go in 2019. This list was not easy–it required a lot of research, asking fellow travelers and my own personal experience but I whittled it down to 10 really special places that should be visited asap.

You can read the full post on where to go in 2019 right here!

I loved checking out the Hokkaido booth, where fellow travel journalists Kelly & Tanveer Badal were showing off their beautiful Wondertrunk travel magazine.

As always, Pauline Frommer gave a great talk and I loved hearing about Switzerland, one of my all time favorite countries, from Alex Hermann.

Pauline Frommer

I also enjoyed the packing tips from Angel Castellanos and the photography pointers from Ralph Velasco.

Photo by Sarah Dandashy

My favorite part was telling some personal stories about my experiences in Setouchi, Japan and while sailing on a Mediterranean cruise. Girona, Suzhou and Sestri Levante were personal favorites too.

Photo by Tanveer Badal

Special thanks to Sarah Dandashy and Tanveer Badal for the excellent photos of the talk! I always forget to ask someone to take them and it was so nice of these two fellow journos and friends to do so!

Found some travel friends!
Sarah Dandashy, Angel Castellanos and Lisa Niver

Where to Travel to in 2019

I was honored to speak at the LA Travel and Adventures show for the third time this past weekend. This year I decided to share more top destinations for 2019. I chose to give you alternatives to some more well known, more touristy places. By the way, the more touristy options are popular for a reason! I love all these places listed. However, if you want more value, more authenticity and just less tourists (I do!) than this is what I suggest.

Instead of South Africa, go to… CHAD

Zakouma National Park, Chad

Chad’s Zakouma National Park is proud to have bounced back from nearly decimated wildlife populations due to poaching. Their conservations efforts have led to a park teeming with life. However, access is limited. Come 2020, only those who’ve made large donations to the park can enter so get in now while you can!

 

Instead of Thailand, go to… VIETNAM

If you are in the market for a beach vacation with history, amazing food and that laidback Southeastern Asian vibe, Vietnam is your best bet. Far less touristy than the very well known beaches and islands of Thailand, Vietnam’s central coast has over 2000 miles of sandy while beaches, not to mention a ton of new hotel openings ranging from a luxe Anantara, a J.W. Marriott and mom & pop beach bungalows.

 

Instead of Beijing, go to… SUZHOU

Suzhou’s Canals

If it is Ancient China you seek, you will have a hard time finding it in the smoggy, trafficky city of Beijing (I swear the traffic there is the worst in the world). Suzhou, a stunningly preserved city that was the summer playground of the emperors, is a step back in time. You can float down canals of the old city, walk through working silk factories (silk was discovered here) and partake in calligraphy lessons. Not to mention, there are over 250 gardens for you to find your zen.

What makes Suzhou even better–no cars needed! Fly to Shanghai and take the 35 minute bullet train into the city and you are all set.

 

Instead of KYOTO, go to… SETOUCHI

Iya Valley, Setouchi, Japan

Kyoto has long been touted as the cultural place to go in Japan. Well, though beautiful, this city is VERY popular. Instead, check out the region of Setouchi to the south. Just a bullet train or short flight away, this watery region is all coastlines and islands. Seaplanes, biking paths, kayaking by temples–there is so much outdoor adventure in addition to all the authentic local culture. Soba, Sake and Kobe are from here. Stop by the oldest onsen in Japan for the ultimate relaxation or stay in a farmhouse in Iya if you want to feel like you are in the Japan of centuries ago.

 

Instead of Cinque Terre, go to… SESTRI LEVANTE

Sestri Levante

In Sestri Levante, you’ll find a seaside, medieval village with local kids licking gelato scoops and old men gossiping on benches. This is real Italy and a great value for that seaside Italian escape. Far less crowds and far more authenticity awaits you in this Ligurian charmer.


Instead of Barcelona go to… GIRONA

The walls of Girona

Girona is like one of Barcelona’s medieval neighborhoods, but without the chain stores, throngs of tourists and cheesiness that accompany a big city. Girona’s stunning look has made it an important location in Game of Thrones, and walking through the walled streets you can really see why. Quite classy with excellent Catalan food (you can have Michelin here if you like) and charming bed and breakfasts (Check out Hotel Nord 1901), the walled city of Girona is wonderful stay. Bonus: you are 20 minutes from Costa Brava!

 

Instead of Caribbean Cruise… MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE

Monaco, from the Viking Star

Hit up some of Europe’s poshest ports via cruise, and not have to deal with teh prices and hassles of visiting on your own. The cruise lines tend to attract a tamer crowd more interested in the local history and stops, than the party scene. Plus, I recommend that you choose an embarkation or disembarkation city that you want to stay a few extra days in so you can really dig into one spot.

 

Instead of Cancun… Zihuatanejo

Just a quick flight from LA, this Mexican beach paradise lacks the high rises and spring break feel of Cancun, in favor of local fisherman, thatched palapas and sunset that will knock the mezcal out of your hand. Whether you stay at the bougie Thompson Zihuatanejo or a smaller boutique hotel, you will want to be near Las Ropas Beach.

 

Instead of Hawaii… Tahiti

Tahiti has captured the heart of the US all over again, this time with Obama vacationing there for weeks and Moana capturing the hearts of all the kids out there. Now, Tahiti is not just for honeymooners or the rich & famous. The once exorbitantly expensive flight over has been cut down to only $330 each way (FrenchBee.com, SFO to Tahiti). Air France and other airlines have followed suit and cut their fares.

If you want highend, try The Brando on its own private island. For a more cultural and affordable experience, Tahitian pensions (bed and breakfasts) are great options.

 

Instead of Rio de Janeiro… SALVADOR

Salvador’s Pelourinho Neighborhood

The capital of Bahia, Salvador as an edge. Afro Brazilian culture meets Portuguese colonialism, and all of this is set on a coastline. You will have a much more local experience as soon as you set foot here. Don’t miss the multi colored buildings of Pelourinho, the old village.

My recommendation is to use Salvador as a base to explore the surfing in Itacare or the waterfalls and grottoes of Chapada Diamantina, both short flights from here.

Agree? Disagree? Have places to add? Leave them in the comments!

xoxo Kelley

Pienza Tuscany family trip

Baby Travel Essentials: How To Travel to Italy with a 5 Month Old

Taking a 5 month old on a 13 hour direct flight trip, across many time zones, for 10 days should not be taken lightly. But I’ve dedicated my life to travel so I wasn’t going to let that intimidate me (re: I was intimidated but pushed through). Why did we decide to put ourselves through that?

Pienza Tuscany family trip

  • My husband had time off, which he rarely does.
  • I had the opportunity to stay at an amazing Tuscan hotel (look up La Bandita Townhouse if you like luxurious, historic hotels in charming villages)
  • Italy is a special place for me as my grandfather was born in a small town near Naples (where the Ferro comes from) so pasta and red wine are in my veins!
  • My husband’s first time was last winter on our babymoon and he fell in love with the country too
  • We figured, the earlier that we start traveling with the better, the easier it’ll become for our baby, and us!

Italy family trip

After having the good and the challenging (ahem, 26 hours of flying with a 5 month old), I can say that it was one of the BEST trips we’ve ever had. It was completely different than the go-go-go style of my old life, but I embraced this new type of travel and had so much fun sharing Italy with my little one. Here’s how we did it.

 

Serious Preparation

I read tons of blogs, polled friends and basically, had Amazon boxes at my door every day. There’s a lot that you can do to make your travel easier and I was prepared to find all the hacks. 

Be an Organized Packer

This a big part of the preparation. Every piece of clothing (yes, even tiny socks) was rolled and placed in a labeled Ziploc bag. This made it much easier to dress her each day and keep the suitcase organized throughout the trip. Used clothing went back in the same bag unless it was very dirty, in which it went into a bag labeled “Dirty.” All of this organization helped us to change her quickly and not lose things while in transit. 

 

BRING

  • Large Suitcase for Checking
    • Get a large checked bag where you will put all your heavy items, your own clothes and things that you or the baby won’t need in transit. For me this was where we packed the clip on high chair, breast pump, monitor, nightlight, extra bottles, toys etc.

  • All Bedtime Essentials
    • Gather all the things that help your bedtime routine & bring them! I packed a our nightlight, monitor, her own sheets, extra lovees and pacifiers so I could make her sleeping situation as close as possible to home.
  • A good Baby Carrier
    • Our Tula Baby Carrier was my favorite because it was so supportive and worked well for dad or mom. It was a lifesaver on our walks around cobbled towns where a stroller would have been impossible.
  • A Clip on High Chair
    • This depends on the baby. Aurora was too small for most high chairs at restaurants so having our own helped. However, if you baby can sit up well on their own and fits in most restaurant high chairs, don’t bring one. If you do bring one, this Inglesina one is what I recommend.
  • Stain Remover, Soap & Detergent
    • I brought small bottles of each stain remover and soap from my favorite all natural line, Puracy. This was great so I could wash bottles in the sink without worrying about what soap would be available there. I also brought the Dreft Laundry detergent sink packets which came in handy when clothes were very soiled. 
  • An Extra Lovee or 2
    • We brought 3 and only came home with 2. Lovees get lost and they are very hard to replace when abroad.
  • 2 Outfits + 1 Pajamas/day 
    • Generally, I feel like aim for 2 outfits per day + 1 pair of PJs and you will have plenty. Not all will be too dirty to rewear and you can mix and match to make new “outfits.” Be sure to bring a few things that work for the opposite weather, as you’ll never know. It was way colder than predicted so I was very reliant on the warm jacket I brought and heavy socks!
  • A Well Organized Diaper Bag
    • Forget my own bag, this is the bag that I used all day, every day. My favorite diaper bag EVER is by Pacapod because not only are they functional, with cute (ie. MAP PRINT!) pods to house your bottles and diapers but these bags also are so stylish. I was not embarrassed to be carrying the Fortuna bag around Italy. No one could tell it was concealing lots of toys, blankets, extra socks, teethers and diapers.

 

DO NOT BRING

  • Travel Crib
    • They are heavy and another thing to carry that you don’t have hands for–your hands need to be on the baby! Call your hotel and ask for a crib or if you are staying a hotel, look into services where you can rent baby gear.
  • Diapers
    • I LOVE our eco friendly, super thin yet absorbent Bambo diapers. But diapers take up a lot of room. I brought a bunch in her diaper bag a few extra in my large suitcase for the first day or two until I could get to a grocery store. In our town, the options were limited (and no, these were not dye-free or all natural) but it was a temporary solution and worked well. Plus, we saved a ton of space. Hey, your baby is “going local!”
  • Too Many CUTE Outfits
    • I was excited for her outfits and for photo opps, so I overdid it on cute clothing and Aurora never wore the same thing twice. In retrospect, she could have worn a few of those super cute outfits again. I would suggest packing only a few of those “special outfits” and stick with more of the comfortable basics. Tutus are not comfortable in a baby carrier.
  • Too Many Toys
    • I limited it to 2 books and one Ziploc of small, lightweight toys. I even think this was too many! We ended up buying her a few things and of course, she was most interested in every day things as we were out and about (like water bottles, spoons, plants etc).

 

Consolidate Your Big Gear

Did you know that you can find a car seat and stroller in one? You can and it is called the DOONA! We didn’t know about it until I talked to the veteran baby travel mama, Natalie DiScala. (This blog post from GQTripping also confirms the love of the Doona).

We purchased Natalie’s Doona car seat/stroller as her son had outgrown it and it was a game-changer for us. This nifty little stroller folds up compactly into a car seat and was key for getting us in and out of the car quickly. We saved space in our trunk and didn’t have to deal with a stroller and carrying a car seat at the same at the airport. Aurora never loved being in the car but I felt that she didn’t HATE this car seat as much as others.

Also, I still use this a lot now for quick trips when I don’t have our car seat, and just used it on a recent trip home for the holidays. Aurora was very comfortable in it and even slept in it a few times. Anything to cut down on the big gear makes traveling easier. You can find it here on my travel tips list on Amazon

Pienza, Tuscany

 

Use a Baby Carrier

I mentioned this already, but the quickest and easiest way to move around a new destination is with the baby strapped on! My girl loves it especially now that she can face out and see the world. This kept her engaged and happy as we toured through towns. My husband ended up wearing her more because he liked it.

We’ve used 4 different carriers and this Tula is my pick for Aurora’s weight (16lb) and for wearing a baby for a long time. It is more supportive than the others and the baby feels very securely fastened. I also like that it has a little pocket for your phone or wallet in the front. She seemed very comfortable in it!

 

Stay in One Spot

Before baby, my trips were FAST PACED. I’d spend a night or two in spot and then move on to the next place. I’ve even done two week long work long trips where I’ve moved hotels EVERY night. Not ideal, but totally doable… without a baby.

Now with Baby A, we decided to find ONE home base. Be careful when choosing this location as you will be spending a lot of time there! It will be your jumping off  for day excursions (and it’d be nice if you can walk out your door to things. I loved that we could walk to happy hour with the baby, or I could jet out to shop while she napped and my husband stayed in.

Keeping your new “home” in one spot, will really help your baby to adjust to the new environment, schedule and time zone. She will get used to the new rhythm and her new space. Plus, you’ll save yourself the headache of packing everything up, transporting your family and then unpacking again if you limit it to one spot.  

Once you are settled, you can enjoy more!

We chose Pienza, a small but not too small village in Tuscany, that was smack in the middle of the picturesque Val D’Orcia. This region is a UNESCO World Heritage site for its stunning rolling hills, farmhouse and cypress trees. It is exactly what you picture when you hear “Tuscany.”

Pienza also happened to be about 15-20 minutes from many medieval villages and famous towns like Montepulciano and Montalcino, which was the perfect length for day trips.

Note: Some babies like the car and won’t mind longer car trips. For us, Aurora hates the car so we really could only handle 30 minutes max in a car as it was often a loud, stressful ride…

 

Consider Your Accommodations

We got lucky that our incredible boutique hotel, La Bandita Townhouse, almost felt like our own swanky Italian apartment. We had a magnificently modern suite, with a separate room for Aurora. This meant that nap & bedtime, we could close the door and read, relax or even one of us could go shopping (guess who that was… :).

It also had a lovely lounge and honor bar, just outside our door and our monitor reached here! This meant we could both sit in the lounge, listen to records, have a glass of wine and plan our next day, all while baby Aurora snoozed peacefully just steps away.

Another huge benefit of this hotel was the location. We were literally on the best street in town, so we could walk out the door for coffee, a snack or just a stroll, without ever having to get the car. This made us feel much more free and allowed us to use our windows of awake time with Aurora wisely.

Not all hotels will be this baby friendly. Having a separate room is crucial, so looking into rental houses or apartments, would be very wise. Also, having a kitchen would have been great. We managed just fine with a mini fridge and espresso maker, but a kitchen is certainly important when your baby is moving onto solids too.

Put Your Baby on the Right Schedule for the Destination

We decided to make Aurora’s schedule 9am to 9pm to accommodate the Italian lifestyle and allow us to go out to dinner. As were crossing time zones, her time was all messed up anyway so it was almost easier to do this than force the usual 7 to 7.

Do One Big Excursion Per Day

During the day, maximized her awake and napping time. In the morning, we always did breakfast at our hotel then a quick walk outside. After, we had a little floor time in our room so Aurora could stretch her legs, then it was nap time. During the first nap, one of us would go out and explore town while the other plotted where we’d be off to when she woke.

 

After she woke up, we’d take a bottle for the road and drive to a new town for lunch and exploring. Lunch was our big meal out as she was rested and happy. We’d walk around the town, maybe make another stop at a farm, vineyard or village on the way home and then get her back to the hotel so she could get a solid afternoon nap.

Very few times she fell asleep in the car, and in those instances, we’d continue to drive around the beautiful valley. We never strayed too far from home though just in case we had to get back right away.

After her second nap, we’d go out for a happy hour drink or a sunset stroll. Then, play time back at the hotel and a cat nap. She’d wake usually around 630pm so we’d get her ready for an early dinner in town. We always just walked to a nearby spot, which was a huge benefit of our town and hotel. The Italians did think that we were crazy wanting to eat dinner at 7pm or 730pm and often we were the first people in the restaurant–but at least we got to eat out!

 

Just Roll With It

There were many times were the schedule did not go so smoothly. She’d miss a nap or wake up early, or just fuss her whole time awake. That happened and though it was stressful at the time, we still reminded each other how awesome it was that we were even there. Sure, she was fussing but we were in Italy, eating amazing food, seeing beautiful things and we were together, so felt like it was all worth it. I’d rather be with a fussy baby in Italy than a fussy baby at home, right?!

One night in particular while we were out at the one dinner we had to drive 10 minutes too in Bagno Vignoni, Aurora was especially cranky. She wouldn’t be contented, no matter what we did–walked her around, held her, bounced her etc. It was very stressful as this was a very nice restaurant and it also was…very quiet. Not a great combo for a cranky baby.

The older Italian couple at the table nearby turned to us and said, “We’ve all been there. Don’t even worry. She is perfect.”  They even offer to hold her, which we took them up on. She was giggle and we exhaled. In those heightened moments, it was the perfect reminder that babies will be babies and most people get that and aren’t bothered as much as we were.

 

Trust us, it is worth it!

Each day was an adventure but each day was so special and memorable. I know Aurora might not remember the piglets she petted or her first taste of mozzarella or Tuscan bread, but I do think it impacted her ability to be versatile and open-minded to the new. She smiled at strangers, looked intently at everything from her baby carrier view and settled into her new sleeping situation and timezone faster than we could imagined.

 

The biggest hurdle was of course, the flight, but I need a whole other post to talk about that…coming soon!

 

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What are your tips for traveling with a young baby? Please drop your comments below!

 

Xoxo

Kelley