Family Travel, Part 2: The Gear

Should You Bring The Kitchen Sink?

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)?

10 COMMENTS

  1. I second the Ergo carrier. I traveled from where we currently live in Germany out to the west coast of the US by my self over the summer with my kids (2 and 6) and this was a lifesaver especially since I was also toting a stroller and a carseat. I kept the Britax seat on top of the P3 (secured with the Britax LATCH straps) and put 2 yr old in it and left the ergo for the actual trip onto the plane. In Germany you have to leave the stroller at the top of the gate and then walk down steps onto a bus and then out to the plane where you walk on the tarmac and up into the plane. So I needed free hands for my 6 yr old, carseat and our backpacks. The 2 year old fits well in the ergo and the weight doesn’t bug me at all.
    For travel when I don’t have to bring a carseat I love my Maclaren Quest for the recline and small fold or our Quinny Zapp – so small it fits in the overhead and there’s no waiting around for the stroller. This is especially important when your do international travel and have to deal with passport control. Saves loads of time 🙂
    For bags I like the juJuBe Packabe and pack everything in smaller bags to go inside by itemizing (foods all in one bag, crayons drawing stuff in another, clothes in a third). I can fit a ton in there!

  2. I have lived on Okinawa for the past 2 1/2 years and have made the trip back to the East Coast of the U.S.A. each summer by myself with my three kids. Furthermore, we have traveled extensively throughout Asia and RV’d through Australia with our children since we have been here. I would first recommend traveling light. The last trip home I remember seeing an entire family with three children each with their own head pillows and matching comforters. It took forever for them to get off the plane and maneuver around the airport. Each trip I only bring as many backpacks as those that can carry them. My 7 year old is designated to carry the “games/books/coloring backpack”. My 5 year old son is designated to carry the “snack backpack’ and I carry the “diapers, wipes, important documents” backpack. My 2 year old even has a little back pack that holds her blankie. In addition I order child friendly meals, and insist the children use the pillows and blankets provided to them by the airline. I have also found the following items very helpful in an efficient stress free trip.

    1) Sunshine Radian Folding Carseat. It folds up so it can fit through the xray machine and on the last flight I even folded it up and put it at my 2 year’s old feet during the flight. It is heavy..about 25lbs but very safe and easy to use.
    2) GoGo babyz Travel Mate: basically makes your car seat into a pull along piece of luggage. It attaches great to the Sunshine Radian. You just pop on the wheels with your child still in it and roll right off the airplane. You can check your stroller in and don’t have to worry about it until you get to your destination.
    3) Phil/Ted Traveler Crib: Found on OneStepAhead but can also be found on Amazon.com. Basically like a pack and play but folds up like a tent and weighs less than 5 lbs. This has been fantastic especially traveling through Asia with some many weight restrictions. We actually brought this crib on our RV trip through Australia. It set up perfectly in the RV and our daughter slept wonderfully in it.

    Hope you find this useful. REmember…pack light. Use duffle bags to maximize your space and weight allowances. And don’t carry more than you can handle!!!

  3. We recently returned from a trip to Taiwan, Shanghai, and Hong Kong with our infant son. We started with one stroller and worked our way through another before landing on what we thought was a good solution. And what was that… a three wheeled stroller with large wheels and narrow base. We found the environment in the countries we toured to be less than optimal for a typical stoller; the ground was rough and inconsistent and passageways and aisles were much narrower than we were used to. We purchased the “Good Baby” brand while in Shanghai, but have seen many other 3 wheelers that look like they would work fine. Some of the cons of this setup are its virtues. Be careful as the three wheels and narrow base make it more prone to tipping. Also, the larger wheels make it more cumbersome to fold and transport.

  4. Many Japanese airports have strollers available (free) for use within the airport. It is helpful if you are traveling without a stroller or want to check-in your stroller. Ask at the ticket counter or information desk.

  5. Skietzman,
    Thanks for your comment (and very cool blog). We never had success renting gear…not easy to do in many Asian countries and if so not always in good shape. Can you recommend places/companies that worked well for your family? or was it through the hotels? Lugging less stuff is better so any specific locations with good rental companies would be great.
    Thanks,
    Lucia

  6. I always find that the less I bring, the better. Obviously, you will need to take the essentials with you, but getting bogged down by a bunch of baby gear makes the getaway more of a hassle than a joy.

    Most destinations offer the necessary baby gear for rent. Although it may cost a bit more, it is usually worth it because of the added convenience. Besides, as you mentioned, some gear may not be appropriate for certain situations and you will just end up renting an item anyway.

    My kids are no longer babies, but I always liked taking my portable playpen with me because it could double as a crib as well as a diaper table and was quite easy to bring along.

  7. Great info! I have to say that I LOVE my Ergo baby carrier. I’ve used it with both of my girls and it makes life so much easier when out and about with 2 by myself. Here in Okinawa, I loved using my solar veil mesh sling when they were younger…so cool in the heat and I even used it in the water a couple of times too. OOh, last thing, the little straw toppers for bottled water from the bunny store or birthday baby store. These are so nice to have in the diaper bag when traveling so if the kiddos get thirsty, you don’t have to worry about pouring a drink into a cup, just pop one of these on!

  8. For us having the DVD player is a must. Keeping the kids docile with lots of TV makes us all happy campers. We also carry small toys like cars and trains to help keep them occupied. It doesn’t hurt to throw a few new ones in there! 😉

    Thanks for all of the great tips! We’re hoping to take a trip to China in a couple of months and a carrier of some sort sounds like a great idea. To my hubby’s dismay you may have just sent me on a shopping spree!

  9. my fave is a diaper bag they have at the Bx. it has a cooler in one side. Its convenient and keeps bottles, juice packs, everything cool and holds the diapers and wipes in a seperate compartment

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