Tips for traveling with a baby

There’s a reason no one talks about how fun it is to fly with children. It isn’t fun.

Before my first flight with my son, I remember thinking about all the times I cringed upon realizing I would be sitting near a baby on a flight. The time has come that I’m the cringe-worthy one.

Pre-baby, I would pop into the airport with little extra time before my flight. Should my flight be delayed, I’d grab a drink at one of the many bars. Once in the air, I’d have a glass of wine and take in a movie. Ahhh, I loved flying. In fact, I was good at it. I packed just the right amount, and was extremely efficient in the security line. Those were the days…

Although flying with a baby isn’t altogether enjoyable, traveling as a whole still is, and I’m not one to park my plane (no, I don’t really have a plane) because things got more complicated. My 8-month old and I already have 4 round-trip flights under our belt(s), and I want to share some tips to help make your flights easier. Goodness knows I googled “flying with a baby” before we lifted off, and I learned some lessons the hard way. Hopefully, I took one (or twelve) for the team, and this information will help you out when flying the friendly skies.

  • Pack light. All you really need on the flight for baby are diapers, a changing pad and wipes. Books and toys only take up space since they’ll likely want to watch your tablet or another monitor, or just people watch when they’re awake.
  • Plan to buy anything bulky, such as diapers, at your destination, since your little one’s stuff will likely take up more space in the suitcase than your’s will.
  • Check your destination accommodations for baby resources. Many places offer equipment and sitter services. Hotels often provide cribs, linens, baby tubs, etc. at no extra charge.
  • If you are flying solo with your little one, look for an aisle seat with an empty seat next to you. You’ll be up and down a lot. If you are traveling with someone else plus baby, look for a 3-seat row, and take both aisles. Middle seats are the last ones to fill up. When you get to the gate, mention to the attendant that you are traveling with a baby, and they may help keep the seat next to/between you open.
  • Be sure your ticket is marked “infant in arms,” and be sure to have a passport for your little one if you are traveling internationally. A birth certificate won’t work.
  • If you find yourself sitting next to a stranger, mention that you will be nursing during the flight. If he/she is uncomfortable, this is the easiest opportunity for them to ask to move.
  • Be prepared for security. You’ll need to put the car seat and the stroller on the scanner belt, so be ready to pick up baby and collapse everything down. This is the time to wear slip-ons and have your liquids, laptop, etc. all ready to go since you’ll already have more to sort through (and carry) than the average traveler. Right before you board, put your baby in his carrier, and gate check the car seat and stroller.
  • On the flight, shuck the rules and any kind of routine.
  • Whatever is a no-fail way to appease the kids, the stuff you normally reserve for special occasions, break it out for the flight. Let them have it their way, and everyone on the flight will love you for it.You may restrict screen time at home, but if it keeps your little one quiet and occupied, this is the time to make an exception.
  • Nurse your baby anytime he fusses. He’ll be thirstier than normal. Babies, just like adults, get a little dehydrated when flying.
  • Use your carrier. My Ergo was great for nursing (the hood is so much easier than pulling out a cover), and he could fall asleep in it, leaving my hands free.
  • Mentally, prepare yourself to be awake the whole flight, and pack snacks since it’s unlikely the timing of the service and you having free hands to eat will coincide.
  • Don’t feel awkward about being “that guy” standing up and walking the aisles the entire flight. It might feel like all eyes are on you, but your fellow passengers would rather see you then hear your baby.

A summer weekend in Munich

Quick trip stats:

  • Dates traveled: July 9-11
  • Transportation: Air Berlin
  • Hotel: Hotel Bavaria

Day 1: Our flight arrived in Munich at 11:45 Saturday morning. We headed to the hotel to drop off our bags and then hopped back on the train to start exploring. I grabbed a Starbucks coffee since we don’t have Starbucks in Naples. It was yummy, but somehow it kept leaping from the to-go lid airspout onto my shirt. I allowed myself about two minutes of annoyance, then decided to rock the coffee stains rather than make a fuss.

Once we arrived in the heart of the city we discovered two important things;
1) It was Christopher Street Day – essentially gay pride weekend.
2) Odeonplatzhad a big TV, moonbounces and beer carts setup for World Cup games. In my opinion, not enough parties include beer AND moonbounces.

We ventured over to Marienplatz and found a crowded marketplace just beyond it. After finding a seat, two beers, two sausages, one huge pretzel and some mustard, we enjoyed lunch at what was definitely the place to be. I’ve never seen so many strangers sharing tables with such huge beers in my life. I went to an SEC school, so that’s saying something.

After lunch we found some yummy cheese topped with fig at a market stand and ventured back toward the Christopher Street festival. A big parade had commenced, so we stood and watched for a bit before following the clubbish music back to Marienplatz with a couple more beers.

Our big questions after watching some the “costumes” go by were: Why would a man want to wear shoes that women loathe, and why would a woman want a mullet? If you’re not attracted to the opposite sex, why would you want to dress like them? Oh well, who cares? Everyone looked amazing!

After a long day traveling and exploring, we returned to our hotel for a much-needed nap before heading out to an amazing dinner at El Gordo Loco. If you ever find yourself in Munich, this restaurant is a must. From the chips, salsa and guacamole to the burritos and tamales, it was all deliciously authentic latino food.

Day Two: After breakfast at our hotel we took the train to Dachau. We were excited to see a dalmatian in a neighboring seat on the train. She had even brought a blanket. I am a fan of any city where dogs are welcome on trains and in restaurants. I should also mention that the dog’s owner was mixing jagermeister with nestea at 10am in the seat across from her. Guten Morgen!
At Dachau, rented audio guides. It was so powerful listening to survivors and liberators recount what went on at the camp. My heart hurt, but I am definitely glad we went. The hardest moment for me came when I entered the “showers”/gas chamber.
What’s so shocking is that the camp was essentially in the backyard of an adorable town and yet people claimed to not know it was there. When the wind turned it’s said that you could smell the death, but people ignored it either in fear or because they were comfortably brainwashed and didn’t know what their own fate might be if they admitted the horror that was going on.

After Dachau we went on a walking tour of Hitler’s history in Munich. I had no idea his initial passion was for painting.

The walking tour ended just in time for the USA vs. Brazil match. We were going to watch it in Odeonplatz, but it was raining on and off, so we hit up the Hard Rock Cafe.

Initially, I was watching because my husband really wanted to see the game, but by the end of it I was leaping and screaming after having been glued to the TV with a churning stomach for more than two hours. It was emotionally exhausting, and so worth it! Go USA! Against the odds we played a man down for half of the game, and there were some crazy, questionable calls from the refs, but none of that kept us from a gorgeous victory. Note to refs…

Sorry Marta, we’re SMARTA (everyone in Atlanta giggles, everyone else just thinks I’m a giant dork)!

Another long day had us pretty tired, so we found a cute German restaurant and ordered some food. I had no idea what I was ordering when I pointed to one of the specials of the day, but it turned out fantastic. Who knew German fare included pumpkin seed crusted shrimp over a salad with a sweet chili dressing. The pairing of the salty, seeded breading with the sweet spice and greens was delicious.

Day Three: We checked out of our hotel, stored our backs at the central train station, and rented bikes to take in the English Garden. The weather was mild since rain had cooled it down – perfect cycling weather.

Along the Eisbach we found surfers using a standing wave created by a hydraulic pump for river surfing. A perfect, constant wave with no danger of sharks is my idea of a good surfing experience.
Further into the English Gardens we watched a man and his dog perform spectacular sheep herding before finding a mini Hofbrauhaus.
Compared to the large establishment everyone is familiar with, this one is easier to find a table, filled with locals instead of tourists, outside, and everyone brings their dogs. It was lovely.
After lunch and a beer it was time to return our bikes and head to the airport. The trains were all exactly on time, which we aren’t accustomed to in Italy, so our planning had us at our gate three hours early. Gotta love the Germans. Aside from a large historical “hiccup,” they’ve got it together.

Are you fit for travel?

To really travel well in Europe, you need to be physically fit.

I don’t mean you need to look great in a bikini (although that is a bonus of being fit); I mean you need to be able to manage the physical demands you might encounter on your trip. This ain’t Cabo.

Even if you’re staying at a resort along the Mediterranean, there will likely be stairs you have to take to get to the sun deck.

You’ve invested the money and blocked off the time for your dream vacation; shouldn’t you prepare your body, too?
With proper preparation and a bit of training beforehand, you can set yourself up for success and truly enjoy your “trip of a lifetime.”

Don’t pack a bag you can’t carry.

We’ve all been guilty of this at some point, but there are multiple reasons to pack lightly, and you’ll be so glad you did. You will want to buy things while you’re traveling, and you’ll need room to include them and the added weight in your bag for flying. If you reach your destination and don’t have something you need/want, all the more reason to go buy something new and have an instant souvenir you’ll actually end up using.

Also, no matter how buff your travel partner is, at some point you will need to move your bag without assistance. There are many instances when you may find yourself dashing for a train or bus while managing your luggage, and, along the way, you could encounter stairs. Or, you might need to quickly hoist your bag into/onto your mode of transportation.

Speaking of stairs…

Whether you have a driver to help reduce the amount of walking you do, take every elevator you find, or use public transportation everywhere, there will still be times when the only way to reach something you want to see/do is to take hundreds of stairs. Whereas the United States requires handicap access almost everywhere, Europe does not. Also, going back to the part about packing lightly, there will be many times when your only option is to carry your bag up/down stairs (hello, Venice and Positano).

It’s easier to enjoy vacation when you aren’t exhausted or in pain.

Europeans walk… a lot. It’s great, and it’s why they aren’t all overweight. Having said that, if you’re not used to walking, your vacation could start to feel more like a grueling training session than a relaxing getaway.

People underestimate how hard a full day of walking can be. After all, it’s only walking, right?! If your usual “daily walk” is only the distance from your office to your car, your body is not properly prepared to tackle a European vacation.

Consider this: You might cover two miles weaving through the Vatican Museum before you’re able to enter the Sistine Chapel. If you’re not in shape, your feet and your joints will be screaming at you as you try to enjoy the magnificent ceiling.

There are so many amazing sights to see in Europe, but it’s hard to enjoy even Michelangelo’s David if your feet are killing you.

You’re gonna want to eat… a lot.

A large portion of enjoying travel is tasting the local cuisine. You don’t want to deny yourself when you’re on vacation. If you take a little off before you leave, you won’t feel badly about putting some of it back on while you travel. Besides, if you are fit enough to do all the walking, stairs and luggage toting, you’ll be burning it off faster than your appetite can keep up!

Prepare yourself.

Start walking more, hitting the stairmaster, and taking the stairs at work.
Lift some weights, do some pushups, or go on runs/walks with a weighted bookbag to get your body used to carrying things while you’re out and about.
You don’t want to find yourself wanting to ditch your camera, a guidebook, or a water bottle because you can’t take the extra weight in your travel bag.
Being fit means you’re up for anything and can enjoy life as you wish to. Bike tours, kayaking trips, long days on your feet admiring art, dancing, hiking, swimming, etc. are all within the realm of possibility if you prepare for them.

If none of what I’ve said thus far motivates you to get fit for your next adventure, please hear my final plea: Exercise just so you don’t fit the “obese American” stereotype.

Ventura Highway Runs Through Italy: America in concert in Naples

Madonna was right when she sang, “Music makes the people come together.”  I had the pleasure of attending an America concert (slightly different genre than Madonna) in downtown Naples, Italy last night, and it was so cool to stand and sing Ventura Highway with a bunch of Italians. It was a blast!

Who knew Italians loved America so much? As it turns out, they were huge here in the 80s, and have continued to return frequently during their over forty years of touring.

There was a great turnout, and everyone knew every line to every song. Fans showed up with vinyl they hoped to have signed, and took plenty of pictures and video from the audience.

Music is a huge part of my life, and it just makes sense to me that something so powerful would span cultures so easily.

I exist because of music. I don’t mean to sound profound and deep. Literally, my mom made eyes at my dad from the audience when he was on stage singing and playing, and the rest is music history.

A song exists for every situation or emotion that’s ever existed, and the right lyrics, with a perfect melody can enhance your feelings better than any drug ever could. Music is a universal connection.

Music can bring you up or down, and last night it was just what we needed to make us feel right at home in Italy.

One of the leads, Dewey Bunnell, was a dead ringer for my dad – looks-wise, and as an entertainer. It made me want to get my dad’s band back together again for a reunion show!

When the crowd took over to sing “Lala, la, la, lalala…” in Horse with no name, there was no language barrier. We all just swayed and sang together. I think it was what the Hilltop Singers intended when they sang, “I’d like to teach the world to sing.”

My life has a soundtrack, and last night it was Italians, Americans and America singing Magic.

Travel: Where I’ve been, where I’m going

Somewhere (in storage) we have that book, “1000 Places to See Before You Die.” When I was able to put my hands on it, I used it to get ideas for where to go next. Now that it’s in a box somewhere and I can’t get to it, it’s harder to keep track of where we’ve been, and where we’d like to go.

I don’t want to forget anything we do or see, so I’m taking this opportunity to write it all down. I’m sure I’m forgetting places we’ve been, and I’ll likely leave out some awesome places to go, so please feel free to correct me.

Perhaps you can help me figure out a list of spots on the globe we don’t want to miss, or, as our dog likes to think of it, where future bushes will be claimed with a lift of his leg. His list of territories has gotten pretty long over the past 8 years.

Let’s start with places I’ve lived:

  • Atlanta/Athens/Rome, Georgia (lots of time there, although my first ten years are a bit of a blur of Barbies and skinned knees)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Norfolk, Virginia
  • Naples, Italy

States I’ve visited:

  • Alabama (Auburn, Birmingham, Mobile, Montgomery),
  • California (Los Angeles, Napa, San Francisco, Sequoia/Kings Canyon & Yosemite)
  • Washington, D.C.
  • Florida (Key West, Islamorada, Destin, Daytona Beach, Ponte Vedra, Panama, Miami, Ft Lauderdale, Orlando, Jacksonville…)
  • Georgia (um, all cities?)
  • Hawaii (Oahu and Kauai)
  • Kentucky (Louisville)
  • Maryland (Baltimore, Annapolis)
  • Massachusetts (Becket, Boston, North Hampton, Springfield)
  • Michigan (Detroit)
  • Mississippi (Jackson, McComb, Gulfport, Biloxi, Pascagoula, Pass Christian)
  • Nevada (Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe)
  • New Jersey (around a bunch of roundabouts…)
  • New York (Manhattan and somewhere upstate)
  • North Carolina (Concord, Sugar/Beach Mountain, Charlotte)
  • Oklahoma (Oklahoma City)
  • Pennsylvania (Philadelphia)
  • Rhode Island (Newport)
  • South Carolina (Charleston)
  • Tennessee (Chattanooga, Rock City, Lookout Mtn)
  • Texas (Houston, Corpus Christi)
  • Virginia (Richmond, Chesterfield, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Williamsburg, Newport News, Hampton)
  • Washington (Seattle, Olympic Peninsula, San Juan Islands)

I’m actually shocked to realize how little of the U.S. I’ve covered. As soon as we’re back, we’ll get to work on that, for sure.

Places I’ve visited outside of the USA:

  • Italy – (Rome, Florence, Siena, Sicily (Catania), Torre del Greco, Caserta, Pozzuoli, Sorrento, Positano, Ercolano, all areas around Naples) Also, I have travel planned to Venice, Orvieto and Capri in the next few months.
  • France – Paris
  • Germany – just to the Neuschwanstein Castle
  • Austria – St Anton am Alberg
  • Mexico – (Cancun, Cabo)
  • Canada – Vancouver
  • Bahamas
  • Dominican Republic – Punta Cana

I feel like I’m missing some stuff, but this is all I can recall.

Where to? Wow, I could go on forever.

Places I want to travel outside of the USA:

  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Croatia
  • Brazil
  • Spain
  • Argentina
  • Switzerland
  • New Zealand
  • Tahiti
  • Belize
  • Australia
  • South Africa
  • Iceland

Top destinations I still want to hit within the Continental U.S.:

  • Grand Canyon, AZ
  • Chicago, IL
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Austin, TX
  • The Adirondacks in NY
  • Jackson Hole, WY
  • Big Sky, MT
  • Denver, CO
  • Portland, OR
  • Carlsbad, CA

I’ve still got a lot of ground to cover…

If you would like any information or tips on somewhere I’ve been, what bushes my dog owns, or you have suggestions, please post a comment. Grazie!

A weekend getaway to Positano, Italy

Lesson learned: It is a bad idea to throw a banana peel over the edge of a cliff if you are hiking with a retriever. That’s all I’ll say about that. Now, on to our trip.

Friday evening I picked up my husband from work and we headed for Positano, Italy. It was under an hour and a half drive to get there, but the trip felt like an eternity.

We were on the edge of a cliff for most of the drive, and in the pitch-black darkness of night, every curve looked like the end of the world as the sky and water merged. I gripped the “oh-expletive” handle, the dog whimpered in confusion, and my husband laughed at the two sissies he had as passengers.

At one point a small car whizzed by us and all I could say was, “That guy is obviously not married to me.”

We finally pulled into Positano and took the one-way road down towards the center of the city. Our hotel, Conca d’Oro, directed us to a parking garage and sent someone to help us with our bags. I almost offered that we could carry them on our own, but after taking 100 stairs to get to our hotel entrance, I’m glad something stopped me.

During check-in I mentioned to the hotel manager that we needed dinner recommendations for two nights. She said she would take care of it, and that a car would be there to pick us up in twenty minutes. We unloaded our stuff into a gorgeous room with a view and headed back down the 100 stairs.

An unmarked car with two passengers in the back stopped in front of where we stood on the side of the road and motioned for us to get in. We got in the car with a guy who didn’t speak English or show any proof that he was supposed to be picking us up, and we did it with confidence that he was not taking us away to kill us. This just goes to show how trusting you become living here.

The other couple in the car were Canadians, living in London, vacationing in Italy. We talked about the Vancouver Olympics and a new gondola connecting Whistler and Blackcomb, then wished them farewell at their drop off point.

Once we were alone in the car, we started whispering about whether we were supposed to pay the driver, and where he might be taking us.

Once we reached La Tagliata Trattoria, it became apparent that the car was a free service from the restaurant, and a smart one at that. I can tell you for certain that we would not have arrived there any other way. Also, since Positano has one road that loops and winds through the city going one way, it’s an easy route to manage for the driver.

The food at the restaurant was delicious, which was a good thing since they didn’t give us options or a menu. The wine was also delicious, and the staff was all one big, proud, happy family – literally. It was a great start to our trip. After our meal, the driver took us back to our stop where we proceeded to walk back up the 100 stairs to our hotel and fall into bed fat and happy.

Saturday morning was lovely as the sun shed light on our surroundings. I pointed at a roadway and said, “That looks cool, huh?!” Turns out I was pointing at the road we had driven in on. Things just don’t look as scary in the daytime.

We had breakfast at the hotel and took off on a hike…a really long hike.

The hike was a portion of the Path of the Gods (Sentiero degli Dei). It was gorgeous, and uphill for a solid two hours. Funny thing though, our legs didn’t actually start to shake until we were coming back down.








We thought the dog was going to lie down and give up at one point, but then he saw some cats and was able to dig into his reserve energy supply to go terrorize them. An Italian lady wasn’t too pleased, but Mason was having fun, and he’s our priority.

Once we reached our hotel (after doing the 100 stairs again) we decided it was time to enjoy our balcony. Books, really good wine (thank you to the Shaffers), a big block of Parmigiano and a gorgeous view were just what the doctor ordered. We polished off the bottle and decided it was naptime.

A 3-hour nap and two cleaned up adults later, and we were ready for our dinner on the beach.

Our hotel had recommended La Pergola for dinner that night, and once again, they were spot-on.

Walking down to the beach we were very aware that it was the slow season. We could imagine how the high season would include many more open venues and huge crowds of people.

For our weekend getaway, one open restaurant on the beach with live music was perfection. The Italian vocalist sounded just like Ne-Yo and even covered some Michael Jackson. It was amazing!

We ordered all fish for dinner, and the mussels alone would have been enough to leave us both in heaven. The seafood was so fresh, and we washed it down with local wine. Already full, we ordered cannolis and limoncello and managed to polish them off, too.

Once again, we went to bed fat and happy. (After more walking, and 100 stairs, of course.)

Sunday we strolled the city and let Mason play in the surf. The locals were very impressed with him as he repeatedly fetched in the water. They all gathered around and cheered for him. They were less impressed to find out that swallowing saltwater works like a saline enema for dogs. Needless to say, the after-party cleared them all out.

For lunch we went back to La Pergola, and they let us dine with our tired, wet dog in tow. We all shared some yummy pizza, and then my boys went to get the car while I strolled around the shops.

Positano is known for it’s great shopping, but it can get pretty expensive. I proved to be my father’s daughter by purchasing steaks from the butcher, a fine bottle of local red, and a ceramic wine stopper with an image of Positano, rather than clothing.

The drive back was beautiful rather than scary because we were on the inside of the road, and I could see the magnificent views rather than solid blackness.  In the high season, I think trains and buses will be ideal transportation, but it was nice to explore Positano in our car during the low season.

We’re lucky to have such beauty in such close proximity. Popping off to Positano for the weekend when you live in Napoli is the equivalent of heading to Helen, Georgia when you live in Atlanta.

How the heck did I score this gig?!

Go. Everywhere.

What are your reasons for not traveling?

Money is probably the first one that most people say. Not enough time is another. For some it’s children. Everyone has their reason I guess.

The thing is, so many people talk about where they dream of going. It’s the only time a dream makes me sad. Why would you only ever dream of going somewhere if the place actually exists? If we can save for things like cars, houses, tuition, etc., why not save for your dream vacation? Even if you don’t have the money, there are options to go on mission trips, study and/or work all over the globe.

You don’t have to go far though. Travel isn’t defined by covering a certain distance. You could travel close to home to a state park, or cross a body of water. The idea is to experience somewhere you don’t see everyday. Maybe you like it and plan a return trip, or maybe you cross it off and decide it wasn’t your favorite spot on the map. Either way, you can say you’ve been there and put it in your bucket.