Traveling With Young Kids: The Skinny

So we all know that this traveling with young kids thing is not easy.  Any sage advice for how to make it more bearable (dare I say, enjoyable?) is key.  Therefore, I present to you some of our travel tips — all born out of experience.  Some things we learned the hard way; some we got lucky on, but the important thing is that we have learned what works for us (mostly).

1. As you plan your trip, search the web for parenting blogs in your destination city.  They contain fantastic jewels of information about fun things to do with kids locally.

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We learned about this awesome science museum in Perth through the blogosophere

2. Traveling – in and of itself – can be unpredictable, so learn to go with the flow. Pack light. When you have to tote around toddlers, babies and all of their accessories, that extra suitcase of snorkel gear and flip flops no longer seems so important.

3. Do not leave home without a baby carrier or an umbrella stroller.

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Logan backpacking it through the streets of Phnom Penh

4. Do you have a long flight ahead of you with young kids? Book a night flight. Carry PJs and toothbrushes on board. Continue with the same night time routine you have at home. If the children refuse to sleep on the flight, resort to bribery to keep them calm. Allowing them free reign of the kids movies (make sure to buy them kid-sized headphones before the flight) and/or a bag full of M&Ms seems to do the trick.

5. Fly reputable international air carriers, not American ones (sorry America).

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A picture is worth a thousand words

6. Always, always request early check-in and late check-out at your accommodation.

7. Speaking of accommodations, if you have a large family that will require at least two hotel rooms, have you considered booking a rental home on VRBO, Airbnb, or other similar sites instead?  If not, you should.  More space for less money.  Also, more awesome spaces for less money.

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We scored this amazing place on a VRBO-like Australian site.

8. Pre-arrange transportation at your destination.  Trust me, you do not want to be waiting in a long rental car, taxi or bus line after a lengthy flight.  Along these lines, become a [insert rental car company name here] preferred member – it saves so much time, especially at destinations like LAX.

9. If you’re renting a car at your final destination, rent car seats as well.  This is SO MUCH EASIER than lugging car seats through the airport.  Most rental car companies offer this service.

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We rented this Holden wagon — with car seats installed — for our western Australia road trip.

10. And last, but definitely not least, bring a grandparent (or two).  That way, maybe — just maybe — you can get a couple of hours or relaxation in.

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Monkeys! AKA my traveling companions.

If you have things that have worked for you, by all means, please share them in the comments below!

Three Babies, Three Very Different Breastfeeding Experiences

To all of you moms out there who are about to try breastfeeding for the first time, remember not to be hard on yourself. It’s not easy for everyone. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It may or may not go smoothly. Just know that if it doesn’t go the way you want it to the first time, it doesn’t mean that it won’t go right the second time. Or the third or fourth time.

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Three babies, three unique breastfeeding experiences

Determined

Five years ago, before our son was born, I made a commitment to breastfeed him. Very few of my friends had children at the time, so I knew very little about the process. I had never actually seen someone do it. So to prepare myself (as much as one can for that sort of thing), I read dozens of books and participated in a pre-natal breastfeeding seminar where we learned about positioning and a baby’s latch using stuffed dolls and boobs. It was a little awkward to be practicing for such a thing without an actual baby yet, but I wanted to put as much information in my knowledge bank as possible. I desperately wanted the process to go smoothly. After all, a mother feeding her baby is one of the most natural things in the world, right?

Confused

Unfortunately for me, it wasn’t simple. As prepared as I thought I was, breastfeeding my first child was extremely difficult. It took days for my milk to come in. The little guy was hungry and not gaining weight. The latch was a problem from the start. I got the cracking and the intense pain that comes along with an incorrect latch. Every time I would try to feed him, he would fall asleep. When he was awake, he was constantly hungry. I would constantly feed him, but it seemed like he was never getting enough. And the cycle continued. At the first week weigh-in, the Logan was only in the 9th percentile for weight and the pediatrician told me that I needed to supplement him for him to “thrive.” I started to supplement in small amounts, but I was determined to provide Logan a majority of what he needed through breastfeeding. Two and a half weeks in, I turned to a lactation consultant. The consultant spent an hour analyzing the way I held Logan to nurse him, the way he latched on, and teaching me techniques to keep him awake while I nursed. She weighed him before and after I nursed him. When it was clear that he wasn’t getting enough, she recommended a supplemental nursing system (SNS), which is a type of necklace that allows the baby to drink both the mother’s milk as well as a supplement simultaneously. The device requires you to tape tiny tubes carrying formula (or pumped breast milk) from the necklace to your nipples — not an exact science, but it works. She also recommended I rent a hospital-grade breast pump and pump every time after I nursed him. Finally, she told me that since he was two and half weeks old, my milk supply had more or less been established and that I might never have enough milk to solely breastfeed him.

I remember all of this like it was yesterday. And I remember feeling insufficient — every day for many, many months. I was riddled by guilt that I couldn’t provide the most basic element that a mother should be able to provide for her child – food. Wasn’t my body made to do this? Why was it so hard? Why couldn’t I feed my child? What was wrong? And what’s more was the judgement I faced from other mothers. One look at the bottle of formula and they assumed that I hadn’t chosen or even tried to breastfeed my child. That I was lazy. That I didn’t want what was best for my baby. That my child wouldn’t be as well off as their child. The number of times that I was reduced to tears, mostly from the stress I put on myself, but also from the silent pressure of others, was unhealthy.

For the first four months of Logan’s life, I had such conflicting emotions — overwhelming joy from holding this perfect baby boy in my arms, mixed with the frustration and guilt of not being able to provide him with what he needed. For nine long months I breastfed and supplemented him. I pumped every time after I breastfed him. It was challenging and time consuming. It was the definition of intense. By nine months, I was exhausted and defeated, so I chose to wean him fully. And when the process was over, I had never felt such relief.

Cautious

Less than two years later, Katelyn, was born. I was even more nervous the second time than the first. Would I have enough milk? Would it come in sooner this time? Would I struggle again? Would it be easier since she was the second child and I knew what to expect? Questions abounded, but the one thing I focused on while in the hospital, was getting as much breastfeeding advice as often as possible. Nearly every time I would go to feed her, I’d call for the nurses to come in and help me do things the right way. Because we were in Thailand at the time, the nurses were amazingly helpful. I am so fortunate to have had their assistance.

I don’t remember having any pain feeding Katelyn and my milk had come in immediately — so I was feeling good about breastfeeding her. And then came her one month appointment when the pediatrician told me that she was not gaining as much weight as she should be. He said I could continue to breastfeed her for another month, but if after that she still had not averaged out, I would need supplement her. I left his office, beelined for the nursing room, and burst into tears. I thought I had done it right this time. It certainly felt right. Kate was nursing often but never seemed upset that she wasn’t getting enough. I had given my whole self to this process, literally. What more could I do?  Feelings of insufficiency haunted me. I asked myself how I could fail at this process yet again.

And then, by some godly miracle, Katelyn’s weight averaged out at the two-month mark. The pediatrician gave me the green light to continue exclusively breastfeeding her. I was elated. No, beyond elated. I’m not sure what had happened in that extra month — maybe I had figured it out, maybe she had figured it out, maybe we had both figured it out, but whatever it was, it was enough. And I wouldn’t have to worry about not being able to provide her with what she needed. Nor, (vain as it is) would I have to endure the judgement of the bottle. For the first time, I was able to relax and actually enjoy the process of breastfeeding. It was no longer a love-hate relationship. I became confident and it grew easier. So easy, that I waited until 13 months to wean her. And when I weaned her, it was bittersweet.

Calm

Two years later our second daughter, Ivy, was born. I had the same breastfeeding nervousness and fears, but they were tempered by my experience and the fact that on the second try, I had eventually succeeded. I still called the nurses on nearly every occasion I fed Ivy to make sure I was getting it right from the start. A week out of the hospital, I scheduled time with a lactation consultant, to double — no, triple — check that everything was as it should be. She laughed at me (in a good way) and told me that everything was more than fine. Ivy nursed well, slept well, and rarely cried. I had no physical pain. And all of her weigh-ins were successful. I was calm. This was working. And at 11 months, it’s still working.

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Something gone right – nursing sweet Ivy

Looking Back

So what made the difference in the end? Was I just nervous the first time around? Did I wait too long to get the help I needed? Did my body just not make enough milk from the start? You know what? I don’t know. Actually I have no idea. I could spend hours speculating why all of my experiences were different, but that’s not really the important part. The important part is that they were different. Just because exclusive breastfeeding didn’t work out the first time, didn’t mean that I wasn’t able to make it work the second (with some struggle) and third times. So hang in there. Be determined. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work exactly the way you want it to. It’s not necessarily an easy thing. And with every child, it is a unique experience.

Margaret River and Pemberton: Family Australia Trip Part 3

Finally, finally, finally I am getting around to posting about our time in Margaret River and Pemberton — hands-down the best part of our trip to western Australia.

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There is so much for everyone in the Margaret River Valley

Margaret River Valley

After our spectacularly fun day at Busselton Jetty, we piled back into our Holden wagon and headed 50km to the Margaret River Valley.  Ahh, Margaret River . . . my favorite part of Western Australia (and I should know, it was my third time visiting)! From the wine, to the caving, canoeing, camping, abseiling, surfing, and much more, this place is most definitely off the hook.  If you are an adventurous traveler who loves the outdoors, Margaret River is for you.  If you are a wine aficionado who enjoys beautiful vineyard settings, Margaret River for you.  If you are a beach bum who loves a great surf (as well as a Great White or two), Margaret River is for you.  Honestly — this place has something for everyone.  I would go back again, and again, and again.  You get the point.

Our digs, Bussells Bushland Cottages, in Margaret River were perfect.  P-E-R-F-E-C-T. The cottages happened to be everything we were looking for – cozy, kid-friendly, and privately situated in the bush, yet still only a five minute drive to the township.  Every morning and late afternoon we went on a bush walk around the property.  Every time we went out, we encountered kangaroos in their natural habitat, as well as beautiful birds (there was a feeder in front of our cottage that the kids could fill with seed every day).  Every evening, we built a fire and read our night time stories in the living room together.

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Kangaroo-spotting out the back door of our cottage

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Why, hello there

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So many beautiful birds in this part of the world! This feeder was right in front of our cottage.

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Fires by night in our cozy bushland cottage

And during the days? Wow. We did a lot.  Here are some of the things we did — all of which we recommend:

1. Visited local wineries and breweries.  Our favorite? Cheeky Monkey Brewery.  They had a fantastic, shaded playground just adjacent to the brewery and indoor/outdoor restaurant.  The kids played, ate, played again, and all the while we sampled the libations.  This place is first class for families. If you stay at Bussells Cottages, by the way, they will give you a list of wineries and breweries in Margaret River upon check-in.  The list denotes which wineries and breweries are kid-friendly.  Super useful.

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Excellent playground at Cheeky Monkey Brewery (other great pics can be found at Kids Around Perth)

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Kate enjoying her first vegemite sandwich!

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Super-healthy kid fare at the brewery

2. Went caving.  So many GREAT caves in the area (Lake Cave, Jewel Cave, Ngilgi Cave, to name a few).  When I traveled to the area years ago, I abseiled into caverns and crawled my way through some tight spaces.  It was phenomenal.  With young kids, that’s not doable.  What is doable, however, is a visit to Caveworks, a visitors center that allows kids to learn about caves and try their skills at crawling through an artificial cave.  Logan and Kate spent over an hour walking and crawling through the artificial cave and looking at the eye-catching photos of caves around the world.  The visitors center is attached to a real cave (Mammouth Cave) and you can go out on the deck and take a look down into the cave, getting a sense for just how spectacular the caves really are. If your children are old enough (I’d say they’d need to be at least 5-6 years old), you can venture on down for a real caving experience.

3. Lunched at the beach (Yallingup Beach, to be exact).  Stunning, to say the least.

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Yallingup

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Oh, just another drive along the coast of western Australia

4. More than satisfied our sweet tooth at the Margaret River Chocolate Factory.  I think the photos say enough.

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You know they enjoyed it when the clothes have to be removed . . .

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Chocolate fondue – check. Chocolate-covered fork in hair – check.

5. Fed kangaroos, llamas, and more at Sunflowers Animal Farm.  Do not miss this.  This was a huge highlight for the kids.  In fact, we went twice!  Sunflowers also offers a farm stay.

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Feeding crazy-haired llamas at Sunflowers Animal Farm

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Little lambs . . . so sweet

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In the bunny pit

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This is why we came to Australia. So cool.

6. Meandered into Margaret River Township for dinner and a trip to the local candy store.

7. Went on many bush walks in the area, spotted marron (crawfish), and played on local playgrounds.

Alas, we only had three wonderful, fun-filled days in the Margaret River valley.  So much to do, but so little time!  If we had been able to extend our time, we also would have visited the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse in Augusta, ventured into the Yalingup Maze, the Yallingup Shearing Shed, and given the Wonky Windmill Farm and Eco Park a go.

Pemberton

With Margaret River (sadly) behind us, we headed to Pemberton — the last stop on our  journey.  Total distance is about 140 kms and takes about two hours.

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Doing our farm stay duty by feeding the donkeys!

Pemberton was the perfect final stop on our trip.  It is slower and quieter than Margaret River, but the bush is perhaps even more spectacular. There area offers a multitude of bush walks of varying distances and difficulty.  We did a 3km hike with Logan (three at the time) and Kate (18 months at the time).  Logan managed the hike on his own, while Kate rode in the Deuter Kid Comfort II.  The karri tree forests are really something special and shouldn’t be missed.  Another classic activity in the area is taking a tram ride deep into the forest.  Logan and Walter did this one afternoon and loved it.

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All aboard! Pemberton Tramway takes you deep into the karri tree forest

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Forest gazing

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Marron-spotting

We chose to do a farm stay in Pemberton at Pump Hill Farm Cottages.  It was right up Logan’s alley — riding on a tractor-pulled hay wagon each morning to feed horses, cows, donkeys, chickens, ducks — what more could a little boy ask for?  The playground at the farm stay was fantastic as well.  Our cottage was located in front of the playground — so we grilled dinner while the kids played.  It was a welcomed mix of entertainment for the kids and relaxation for the parents. If you make it to Pemberton and you are traveling with young kids who love animals, Pump Hill is the place.

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Quaint farm stay cottage — just across from a great playground for the kids

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Beautiful horses just across from our cottage

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Getting properly dirty at the playground (see our cottage in the background?)

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Feeding donkeys in our pajamas — one of the perks of a farm stay!

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Someone is happy about this tractor-pulled hay wagon ride!

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Pure joy.

After two nights in Pemberton, we headed back to Perth in one day (with a stop in Bunbury for lunch).  The drive was fairly easy, but we were all fairly sad to be leaving our best vacation to date.  Western Australia.  What a magical place.

A long (and pregnant) weekend in Phnom Penh

With only Logan in tow, we were brave and made three international trips in one year. Phnom Penh was the final international trip we took before Katelyn was born.  It was a three-day weekend getaway during which we did lots of walking, sight seeing, and shopping.  The National Museum of Cambodia and Royal Palace are must-sees.  We stayed at the Amanjaya Hotel — which is beautiful and very centrally located.  The only downside was that the hotel’s baby crib was not ideal, so if you choose the Amanjaya, definitely plan to bring along your own pack n’ play — unless, of course, you’re okay with baby sleeping in the bed with you.  Also, don’t skimp on the cool clothing, sunscreen, and a sun hat for baby- Phnom Penh is warm!  A sturdy baby-carrying backpack is also a good thing.

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Logan is all smiles as we depart Bangkok for Phnom Penh

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Our hotel was in walking distance to so many awesome sites

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Walking the promenade

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Monkey around the hotel and taking a brief respite from the heat

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At the National Museum of Cambodia. Stunning. Definitely worth a visit.

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Admiring things at the National Museum

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Shopping! Logan was a little unsure about his new friends, but they really liked him!

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Rooftop dining along the promenade with one happy lil’ fellow!

Got an 8-month old? Why not travel to Hong Kong for the weekend?

Our first international trip out of Thailand was to Hong Kong, and it was fabulous!  Logan was eight months old at the time and we spent almost the whole trip on our feet (Logan received the royal treatment by riding in the Deuter kid backpack or Ergo most of the time, including for his naps)!  We traveled to Hong Kong before I started Toddle Joy, so I hope to fill in more details about our trip later, but I thought I’d post these pictures showing the bulk of what we did in 48 hours — eat, hike, and travel via ferry and peak tram!

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Royal Jordanian direct from Bangkok to Hong Kong provided us with a sweet ride. Logan just *barely* still fit in the baby bassinet, but look at him – clear he wasn’t interested in sleeping in it!

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Yes, hotel rooms in Hong Kong are small, but as long as you bring what you need for baby, it all works out

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Beautiful sites at The Peak. The Peak Tram is a must!

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Phenomenal dim sum is available in many places around Hong Kong

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Ferry ride from Hong Kong to Kowloon

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Hiking atop Hong Kong – a great and unique thing to do on a beautiful weekend. Make sure to take a good baby-carrying backpack and sun hat with you.

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Beautiful hike, which Logan napped for most of