Friday, May 31, 2013

Why Traveling to Paris with a Baby is Just Like Getting a Full-Frontal Neck Tattoo

"You're doing what!?!?!"

I imagine that's how my boss would respond if I told her I was shaving my head, getting a full frontal neck tattoo and going on TV sporting the new look.

That's also the response both friends and strangers give me when I tell them my husband and I are taking our 20-month old daughter to Paris on Sunday.  It's actually the second time we have taken her across the pond.  While it's a challenge, the joy of spending time with her far outweighs the stress of the plane ride and unexpected "surprises" we might encounter along the way.

Jordan on the carousel at the Trocadero
There are a few reasons she's going with us:
  • I rarely get to spend time with her so when I am not working, caring for her is fun and actually feels like a holiday. 
  • A cute bébé is a wonderful conversation starter.  Last time we were there Jordan charmed the gruffest Parisians, which is a bit of an unfair stereotype.  (More on that here)
  • She travels for free in our lap until she's two.  Okay, she only travels free domestically, we pay taxes on international travel, but it's still a pretty good deal.  We're taking advantage of this as long as we can. 
All that aside, having THE screaming baby on a plane can be an arse-whip of epic proportions.  Her first flight was to Cabo San Lucas which she handled like a champ.  She's also done LA twice and New Orleans.  Here are a few tips to handle travel with a little one.   

We place a premium on sleep above all else.  Jordan was sleeping through the night at six weeks old and hasn't wavered from that.  A well-rested baby produces a happy baby and sane parents.

Jordan asleep on the plane

When traveling to a different time zone, we start adjusting her sleep schedule about a week prior.  For example, when Jordan went to LA, we started keeping her up about 30 minutes later each night a week out until she was on the Pacific time zone.  Ultimately, two days before we left for LA, she was going to bed at 10pm and waking up at 10am.  This was a tough adjustment for us but saved us during the trip.  Coming back to Dallas, she had an easier time falling asleep at her normal 8pm. 

As we prepare for Paris, which is currently seven hours ahead of us, she is going to sleep earlier.  This week, we have been putting her down between 6:30-8pm.   This is a little more difficult as the sun is still setting but the process of "winding down" earlier is effective.

On the Plane
No real secrets here: plenty of diapers, a change of clothes and a good attitude.  She has been a good flyer in the past but I know she's going to cry.  She is done using a pacifier but we are debating bringing it for the airplane ride.   We will also bring an iPad loaded with plenty of games, Dora the Explorer and Bubble Guppies episodes.  

We also have this little survival kit that includes meals for the plane and lavender oil which we will rub on her feet to help her sleep.

Once There
A good stroller is key.  We like the Joovy Groove Umbrella stroller because it's mobile and easily collapsible.  It's also one in which she can nap when we recline it.  This is huge.  We found out while we were out exploring the city, she would take her naps in the stroller.  We would simply put a rain cover over it and she was good to catch a few ZZZZ's. 

Jordan napping in her stroller at the Louvre
While Jordan pretty much eats when we eat, we were flexible with her meals.  We dreamed of lavish lunches and dinners in bistros and brasseries but we usually ended up eating lunch in the park which was fine.  It was just easier.  Having picnics turned out to be fun and a change from our typical routine. 

Picnic in the park
Most restaurants didn't even high chairs but, again, patience and a smile went a long way.  If she went crazy during a meal, we took her out of the establishment and tried to calm her down.  She's a bit more cantankerous now, so undoubtedly, this will be a test. 

Charming the owner of L'Epigramme on the Left Bank
The Takeaway
It won't be perfect and there will be meltdowns.   Mentally preparing for that is half the battle.
Breaking the perfume bottle!
There is no real formula for success for the unpredictable adventure of traveling with a little one.  Part of the joy is changing diapers in the park, breaking a perfume bottle at Hermes, making new friends at a playground and charming the elderly French nounou who has seen it all.  All things we did, btw.

Making friends at the park
Preparation, flexibility and a good attitude WILL help you and the family enjoy the trip and come away from it with memories that will last a lifetime. 

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