Family Travel, Part 2: The Gear
CONTRIBUTED BY LUCIA
It is always amazing to me that modern children now “need” so much gear when compared to past generations and tribal groups, but that seems to be the case. As much as Babies R Us gives me a headache and as much as I swore never to accumulate so much “stuff” for such little people, I have to confess that we have gone through many different types of strollers, carriers, backpacks, etc in search of the “perfect” one. And here are a few things I have learned along the way.
There is not one “perfect” piece of travel gear. Each piece of gear has some issue that will present itself at the most challenging moment….the stroller that is too wide to fit down an aisle in a Japanese market, the backpack that felt so great for the first fifteen minutes and torture for the remainder of your 45 min hike, the sling with the cool print that makes you feel like a hip mama but it doesn’t appeal to your little wiggle worm, etc. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this will be your last purchase of child oriented travel gear. It won’t. Accept it, sell the pieces that don’t work, and continue the search.
Think carefully (and ask others for advice) when planning a trip. Consider where you are going and what you will be doing. If you are headed to rural Thailand, don’t bring a stroller because there aren’t sidewalks. Same goes for Sapporo during their annual winter festival (which is GREAT), strollers don’t do well in the heavy snow and icy paths. Also be sure to try out your gear before taking it on a trip. Take your new baby backpack for a test hike at Hiji Falls before climbing Mt. Fuji. And also consider your child’s temperament and routine. Do they prefer to be carried or strolled? Can they take naps in the backpack or in the stroller?
Having said all of that, here are few of our more successful pieces of travel gear:
Convertible Stroller/backpack This was my primary stroller with my son. Works great in Japan and throughout Asia because there will be times when the aisle is too small, there isn’t an elevator, the crowd is too thick for strollering, or there isn’t a sidewalk. Great in terms of flexibility. Also, Kelty has great customer service (and they make some great child back carriers for more serious hiking). The big drawbacks are the lack of recline like with a traditional stroller and it can be tippy especially with bigger kids. But overall there were many, many times I was very grateful to have this piece of gear.
Structured Soft Carrier (Ergo, Patapum, Beco, Baby Bjorn, etc). We used (and still use) our Patapum on a daily basis with my daughter. Like the Kelty Convertible it was also a lifesaver in Japan, especially once I had to keep up with two kids at once. The supportive padding at the hips and shoulders make this a very comfortable way to carry kiddos. We also love the ability to use it as a front carrier or back carrier. It can be rolled up small enough to fit in a diaper bag/back pack if you are using a more traditional stroller as your primary gear while traveling.
Umbrella Stroller. Umbrella strollers are good because they are very light weight and fold compactly. Flat folding strollers (and jogging strollers)are not great for traveling because they are difficult to lug in and out of public transportation and also awkward to carry for any extended period of time. The cheaper umbrella strollers are functional but their more expensive cousins (Maclaren, Chico, Combi, etc) can be worth their money. The more expensive ones have the added bells and whistles of baskets, carrying straps, reclining seats which can make life easier while traveling for kids and grown-ups. These types of strollers are ideal for big city touring.
Carseats, Beds, and Highchairs You will quickly discover that traveling with a car seat in Asia is very challenging and frustrating. If you are going to be using public transportation (cabs, buses, trains, subways), don’t bring one because you won’t be able to use it (no seatbelts). If you are taking a car seat, especially on a long airplane trip the go-go kidz car seat wheels are very handy. Cribs in Asian hotel rooms are unpredictable. We have had some that were great and others that were very scary, wobbly wooden cages. We loved traveling in mainland Japan where we could request “tatami” rooms with futons to sleep on the floor. Much easier to camp on the floor together than to deal with crib issues. If your child has to sleep in a crib, plan on bringing a pack and play. Highchairs are not always easy to find in Asian restaurants and many times they don’t have straps. Make a trip to Jusco and search for these great little inventions which are essentially belts that fold into little pouches . These little lifesavers will quickly make most high chairs and even regular chairs safer for your favorite wiggle worm.
So enough of my rambling. What are your favorite pieces of family travel gear (besides the Advil and secret stash of chocolate)?