Summer 2018 Travel Gear Guide

 

IMG_1587

Baby Flyer starts a flight off right!

In just a couple weeks, we’re heading out on a 4 city, 12 day, family adventure to Europe!  We’ll be sightseeing through Lucerne, Switzerland on arrival, then Prague, Czechia, and on to Stockholm, Sweden, before finally one last night in Helsinki, Finland!  So….. what to bring??

Last summer we went to Europe as well, that time with an 18 month old.  When thinking this year’s trip through, we realized we needed to change up some of our gear.  We’ll be leaving some things home, and taking some new things to try.

Here’s some of the current packing list:

When you’re doing a trip with this many stops, and this many chances for things to get lost, damaged, or even just cost more to check, what suitcases you want to take is the first important question.

The we’re each planning bringing on a simple rolling suitcase that can either be checked, or boarded with, depending on the best option for the flight.  We’ve had several brands this size, but the Travelpro Crew 10 has stood up to the test the best, even when having other items tied on.  Do keep in mind, though, if you’re going to be doing a lot of intra-Europe flying, you may be asked to check a bag much over 20,” and weight limits may be enforced.

Travelpro crew 10

A good companion bag to bring in the cabin, or to tuck in the seat in front is also key.  For a lower price point we like the matching duffel to the Travelpro crew series, or if you’re looking for something that can be a small rolling bag, the Briggs & Riley rolling cabin bag is lovely.

FullSizeRender

Baby Flyer demonstrates how nicely the Briggs & Riley rolls.

What’s different this year is that Baby Flyer is two, and so she has her own ticket and her own baggage allowance.  Keeping with family tradition, she has her own (pink, of course) Maxlite Travelpro roller.  We decided to get her ‘real luggage’ instead of a kids-type bag, hoping that the quality and size will make it a long term purchase, while still being small enough for her to roll on her own when she’s in the mood.

pinksuitcase

Knowing that she won’t be in the mood yet to roll her own suitcase all the time, we ordered a simple attaching strap so we can clip hers onto one of ours for longer walks.  This brand is universal, adjusts well, and fits most wheeled luggage models.

IMG_1682

Best travel car seat ever- light and durable – Cosco Senecra

This is also the first major trip where we’re going to bring her car seat to install on the flights.  We’ll update with how this goes, as well as some of the rules later, but keep in mind that not all airplane seats are compatible with car seats, especially in business or first class cabins.  Check with your airline to make sure.  Seats, even in economy, that are in bulkhead rows also may not work as they may have airbags in the seatbelts, and be narrower, so only some slim car seats will fit.  As a general rule, most basic economy seats have a 17″ width, so that’s a good dimension to follow when measuring your car seat to see if it will fit.

Since we’re planning on taking the car seat through the airport, we’re trying out a harness that attaches it to a carry on size roller bag.  It seems to work great, though takes a couple minutes to sort out at first.  We recommend also packing a light gate check bag in case you decide to check it plane side to keep it clean.

car seat strap

This trip is also a first in that we’re leaving her well used traveller crib at home.  She’s just recently gotten big enough that she rolls into the edges at night and wakes up.  We’ve been experimenting with inflatable toddler beds like the Shrunks brand mattress.  It looks great, sets up fast, and is a cut above other basic air mattresses.  Baby Flyer really seems to like the idea and loved playing on it, but since she’s still in a crib at home, it’s just different enough that we’re not confident it’ll be worth it to drag around Europe.  We’re keeping it for when she’s a bit older for travel, sleepovers, etc.

Shrunks1

This bed really does seem to hold the air well, packs up small, and has separate air chambers for the inside and outside, so you can tuck blankets in.  It also fits a standard size crib sheet.

Instead, we checked with our Airbnb hosts, and at each location there’s either a crib already there, a kid’s bed on the ground, or enough extra mattresses that we can make her a safe place to sleep without having to bring anything with us.

IMG_7784

The Citi Mini Zip is a good option for a larger feeling stroller that packs away small.

We’re also not taking our own stroller this time around.  Last year we brought our City Mini Zip and backpack, but didn’t use it as much as we thought we would.  Baby Flyer likes to walk on her own, or be in a carrier.  If she was a better stroller kid we would likely bring it again, even though it’s nice to downsize our luggage.  Like the beds though, one of our Airbnbs has a stroller for us to use, and Stockholm has a convenient looking stroller rental option, so we’re more or less covered.

Tula

Plus, we finally admitted that she was getting too big for our Ergo 360, and upgraded to the Tula toddler carrier.  It has a high weight limit – up to 60 (!!) pounds.  This was one thing we didn’t take last summer that we really wish we did, so this is us living and learning.

We also are trading in our usual over the shoulder bag for an all purpose backpack to take on the plane, that should be easier to take around the cities when we get there.

Targus1

A big trip is also a good time to pick up some smaller necessities.  Last summer we definitely wished we had some extra plugs, so we ordered a spare Targus Universal Adapter, and a bigger remote power bank since we lost one in an airport earlier this year.

IMG_1606

When the stars align… even for just a while…

With all these things set, and our departure date getting close, we’re down to enjoying planning things to do and see!  It’s the best feeling to be done with the nuts and bolts of a trip to get to the good stuff.  There’s really no such thing as being totally prepared for an international family trip, but a little early organization can get you so much closer.

Travel well,

~CET

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6 – Hygge With A Chance of Downpour, Part 2

IMG_8097

To catch you up:

Summer in Scandinavia: Preview

Summer in Scandinavia Part 1: Gear Up and Go!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 2: Well Connected

Summer in Scandinavia Part 3: This Is the Way We Board the Plane

Summer in Scandinavia Part 4: Hello, Helsinki!

Summer in Scandinavia Part 5: Old City, New Adventures

Summer in Scandinavia Part 6: Hygge With A Chance Of Downpour Part 1

What’s a week in Scandinavia’s long summer days without a little rainstorm?  Both times we’ve been to Denmark in August we’ve had some rain, but this time around it was serious business.  The first full day we were wandering around town the skies decided to open up and absolutely dump rain on us as we made our way back to the condo.  Full on clothes-soaking, just have to give up and laugh, raining.  Some of our clothes never really did recover, but sometimes you just have to accept that there will be sacrifices to the travel Gods along the way.

IMG_8093

Baby Flyer stays dry in her Citi Mini Zip with Rain Cover

Thankfully, this wasn’t the case for the entire time, just light showers here and there the next day which didn’t stop us for getting out and around in the city.  However, Baby Flyer had her own plans.  Not only was she too proud to ride in the stroller most of the time, even though we’d thoughtfully gotten a nice rain cover for it, she also wanted to hold her own umbrella.

So, while all the (seemingly) well behaved Danish kids were quietly bundled up in their strollers, we were chasing our fiercely independent American child down the cobblestone sidewalks of central Copenhagen, in the rain, trying to get our umbrella back.

img_8142-1.jpg

Copenhagen, a portrait.

In retrospect, it was one of the cutest moments of the week, and we weren’t the only ones who felt this way.  We’re pretty sure Baby Flyer and her umbrella made it into quite a few people’s European vacation photos.

We took our time exploring the city, hitting some of the attractions, as well as a few old and new favorite restaurants and casual dining spots.  First, and most convenient was a stop by Torvehallerne in Norreport.  It’s a year-round market of kinds that includes shops selling vegetables, olive oils, deli meats, and wine, as well as some small restaurants and bars.  One of the most popular booths is definitely for smorrebrod, which is about as Danish as you can get.  It translates to ‘buttered bread,’ but is really a variety of open faced sandwiches with all manner of toppings that can stack up several inches.  One piece makes a perfect lunch, and a glass of wine to go with doesn’t hurt.

We also treated ourselves to a couple of nights out at some of the wonderful spots by our flat as well.  Just downstairs was a French restaurant called Honen & AEgget (roughly translated- chicken and egg!)  Along with a cozy atmosphere, the food was great, and the service was extremely friendly.  We went more than once.

IMG_8170 (1)

Our last night, we did things properly and had a true Danish meal out at Vaskt in Centrum.  This place is 100% scandi – cozy, just formal enough, farm to table, and homey yet decorative presentation.  Yes, we think we at the garnishes here too, but we regret nothing.

With all that food, we needed to get out and cycle it off.  This is Denmark, and really the only way to get around is by bike.  Plus, Baby Flyer was much more amenable to sitting in a kid’s seat on the bike than in her stroller.  There are various bike sharing systems in Copenhagen, but since we needed to rent the kids’ seat and helmet, we headed to Osterport to a rental shop.  In just a few minutes, we were on our way!  As a sidenote, it took us awhile to find the place- it’s actually down a ramp/stairs closer to the metro tracks.

IMG_8179

IMG_8186 (1)

Baby Flyer LOVED it, and was inspired to try it on her own when she found a bike her own size in the courtyard of our flat.

IMG_8215

She is Danish now!

Now, as promised, we also spent a fair amount of time exploring the playgrounds around Copenhagen.  As a general rule, most of the larger playground designs that we commonly see in the US are designed by, or have their roots in, Danish companies.  They also are responsible for Legos, among other long lasting kid’s favorites.

What was funny, then, was that the playgrounds in Denmark don’t look a whole lot like ours, even our ‘good’ ones!  In Copenhagen, the parks are largely more natural- wood elements, terrain, bridges, and structures that in the US might make parents edgy – high ropes, BIG slides.

In short -they’re AWESOME!

IMG_8234

Playtime in Denmark- Sweater & Sneakers

The first one we stumbled on was just across the lakes from our flat.  A small, but imaginative local playground with ‘grass’ mounds, wooden planks, and a vaguely nautical theme.  It was off the beaten path a little, so we had it to ourselves most of the time.

We of course also spent some time at the iconic playground in the ‘King’s Garden‘ park in the center of town.  This playground was not only lots of fun, but really beautifully designed.

IMG_8246

It was nearly entirely made of wood structures.  Really, nothing overly ‘fancy’ but everything functional and inspiring to the imagination.

IMG_8245 (1)

IMG_8248

It’s always interesting to go to some of the ‘local’ family spots on vacation to get a dose of everyday culture.  What we definitely kept seeing across Scandinavia was the independence of the kids (once they were out of their strollers).  Parents kept a watchful eye, but let their kids play more or less on their own.  This park was also perfect for that since most of the elements were simple and kids over 2 or 3 didn’t need assistance to get to anything.

IMG_8257 (1)

IMG_8278

The King’s Garden itself was beautiful in Summer, especially after the rain.  The Danes both design, and use, their common spaces well.  On a nice summer weekend it can feel like the whole city is just out for a day in the park.  It’s not uncommon to see groups with elaborate picnics, complete with music and drinks.

IMG_8242

King’s Garden

IMG_8288

Bonus pic- Waterfront in Summer

All in all, we packed a lot into our four days in Copenhagen.  As always, you have to be flexible and keep your expectations simple when traveling with little ones, but the memories are worth it.

img_8158-1.jpg

Stopping to smell the flowers

Too soon, it was time to pack up again and say ‘see you next time’ to Denmark.  We had to start the long journey home to California.

IMG_8131

Baby Flyer at Christiansborg- historic city center and Parliament buildings.

Up next- All Good Things Must End – Hej Hej, Danmark – Kobenshavn Lufthavn to LAX”

~CET

Summer in Scandinavia Part 3: This is the Way We Board The Plane…

IMG_7697

Here we go!

….Board the plane, board the plane.

The story so far:

Preview: Summer in Scandinavia

Part 1: Gear Up and Go!

Part 2: Well Connected

After our early morning and hop to Boston, it was nice to make it to our final stop before Europe.  We don’t routinely find ourselves going through JFK, so spending a little time there was a nice change.  Plus, we were traveling internationally and so CET’s American Executive Platinum status got us into the Flagship Lounge half of the Admiral’s Club.

IMG_7699

Busy afternoon at the JFK Flagship Lounge

We had a couple hours before our flight, since it was an overnight (as most transatlantic flights tend to be) and so had time to have a meal at the buffet, and let Baby Flyer roam around.

This lounge has been recently re-done, and they did a good job.  However, during peak times even this expanded space is full to capacity.  We ended up grabbing a couple chairs along one of the walls, but almost every seat was taken.

IMG_7703

Full buffett

The food consists of a full hot bar, as well as snacks and desserts.  The drinks are self-serve, and included a wine/champagne bar, as well as a station with a refreshing ‘signature cocktail.’

IMG_7702

IMG_7700

Baby Flyer loves some lounge time, and especially enjoyed looking at the planes outside while walking along the wall of windows that makes up one side of the lounge.

At about 45 minutes out, we headed to our gate.  They hadn’t started boarding yet, but it was good we were there on the early side as they needed to re-check our passports (standard procedure).  Since we were in business class, we boarded early.  Baby Flyer LOVED getting to walk down the jetbridge on her own two feet, and holding her own passport!

The plane was one of Finnair’s a330 workhorses.  It has two classes- business and economy, and while the seats were lie-flat and functional, could use some updating.  Finnair has been doing just that through their fleet, including newly purchased a350 long haul aircraft that look amazing inside.

IMG_7709

AY a330 Business Class

We sat in 1A and 1C, which was a window seat and aisle at the front of the cabin.  The interior is laid out in a 1-2-2 or 1-2-1 layout, depending on the row.  This gives good options to both individual travelers and couples.  One thing the service lacked was any kind of mattress pad, which would have been a welcome addition since the seats were on the hard side for sleeping.

IMG_7713

Baby Flyer shows us how to fasten our seatbelts

Finnair does its best to be quintessentially scandi with their decor, including brightly patterned marimekko pillows and blankets, as well as amenity kits.  Their signature pre-departure drink was sparkling wine and blueberry juice, served in ice patterned glasses.

IMG_7721

Inspecting the amenity kit

IMG_7718

Signature drinks before takeoff

The IFE was solid, and included a lot of things you don’t find on AA or Qatar, or probably anything outside of Scandinavian TV, including plenty of nature specials and outdoor adventure documentaries.  Ice.  So very much walking around on ice.

IMG_8374

Rocking out!

I always enjoy checking out new airlines.  Even though Finnair isn’t a true luxury airline like Qatar or Cathay Pacific, it’s a solid choice with pleasant service and a good reputation.  What’s even better about them is that they’re a way to get to Europe that can both avoid the huge award fees that British Airways and Iberia tack on, and can let you skip the chaos of connecting in Heathrow.

The key to award travel to Europe is to just get to Europe, pretty much anywhere in Europe, and then connect from there to where you actually want to go.  Bonus if you actually want to go to the destination, like we did with Helsinki.

The flight itself was long, and not too long at once.  It was an overnight but only 8 hours including taxi, take off, landing, and meal service.  This is the downside of flying East Coast to Europe- even the longest flight only provides for about 4 hours sleep if you’re lucky.  We took off and watched the sunset out of the windows before settling in.

IMG_7731

We’d brought her plenty of pack-able toys, and she was entertained for a few minutes here and there by watching the IFE, or listening to the ‘Finnish Kids’ song station through our Bose.  She also played at our feet for awhile, and set up a fort of sorts in the bulkhead.  They handed out Moomins themed towel/blankets to the kids, and she enjoyed ‘going ny-ny’ on hers.

IMG_8352

Everything is Moomins

IMG_8370

Making a fort

Traveling with a lap infant, especially a lap toddler, is infinitely better the more space you have.  She eventually fell asleep, first on CET (much to CAR’s delight), and then moved over after awhile.  We didn’t sleep much at all, but she did, and woke up grinning and happy on final descent.  We should all be so lucky.

IMG_7733

Someone got to sleep at least

Overall, it was a comfortable way to get the three of us to Europe, especially since we could handle some lost sleep since we didn’t have immediate plans for the day once we got there.

Travel well,

~CET

Up Next- Helsinki!

IMG_7744

Hyvää päivää!!

Trip Preview: Summer in Scandinavia

IMG_0245

Nyhavn, Copenhagen.  No, we’re not staying at this floating hotel….but It looks nice, right?

We’re packing again!!  This Summer has already been busy, with trips to Mexico and Seattle, among others, but this next trip is the one that’s been on our calendar for almost a year now.  We’re getting brave, and taking Baby Flyer to Europe!  It’ll be a week and a half of Oneworld award flights, Scandinavian Airbnb rentals, and a few side jaunts here and there.

Our itinerary starts off with a 787 Dreamliner flight to ORD and two nights in Chicago, which we added because our tickets start there.  Since we love that city, we added some time so we’ll have a day there to take Baby Flyer back to Millennium Park.  From there, we head to Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia), and Copenhagen (Denmark).  The international part of the trip lasts 10 nights (plus one on the flight out), and includes plenty of planes, trains, but not really many automobiles.

Canal

The canal in Ruoholahti where we’re staying in Helsinki

This trip was inspired by Finnair opening up some award seats to Oneworld partners in business class for the summer.  Since premium mileage tickets are notoriously hard to find without big taxes and fees, we jumped on them and booked a round trip ticket from JFK to Helsinki in business class for some miles and about $60.  It will be Baby Flyer’s first long haul international flight, but hopefully having the extra space and lie-flat beds will make it reasonably comfortable.

Finnair Seat

How Finnair claims we’ll sleep** on their international flights.  **Baby not pictured

Once we get to Helsinki, we’ll have three days and nights to explore the city.  Given that this is a family trip, we’re planning baby friendly activities, and luckily, Scandinavia in general is overall safe and welcoming for family travelers.  Highlights we’re hoping to hit include the ‘Children’s’ Town’ museum- an interactive exhibit where everything is play-with-able for the little ones, and importantly, is indoors, making it a good rainy day option since we’re likely to get at least one of these this time of year.  We’re also hoping to take the boat out to Suomenlinna island, for a little outdoors time, hiking, and sightseeing.

tallinn-old-town-toompea

Tallinn’s Old Town

The next part of the trip is taking the Eckero Line ferry across the Gulf of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia for two nights.  We’re staying in the ‘Old Town,’ which is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.  Our plans here mainly involve exploring the medieval town, food and shopping.  We may venture out to Kadriorg Park, which includes palace grounds, as well as gardens, and several museums, and checking out the KGB museum at the Hotel Viru.

Eckero Line

Eckero Line- M/s Finlandia

As for the ferry, we booked the Eckero Line through Direct Ferries.  It’s a 2 hour crossing on a ‘ferry’ that looks more like a small cruise ship, and we went all out (all extra $40 of it) to book a 4 birth cabin with our reservation.  It’s not really necessary, but since the crossing times just about hit Baby Flyer’s naptime, we thought we might find a little privacy nice.  It also means we’ll have a private bathroom as well.

Once we get back to Helsinki, we’ll be off to the airport once again to catch a short flight on Finnair to Copenhagen.  We booked these tickets separately, and they were reasonably priced, so we didn’t use miles.  Technically, if we’d flown Norwegian, we could have saved a few dollars on the ticket price, but this was one of those lessons for people who don’t look hard enough at discount carriers.  Given that we’re Oneworld elites, we have free checked bags, and free advance seat assignments as long as we stay on partner airlines.  Had we flown on Norwegian, our ‘savings’ would quickly have been more than eaten up by the added charges.  Plus, because we’re flying Oneworld, we’ll have lounge access at Finnair’s comfortable and full service lounges before our flight.

We’ve been to Copenhagen before, and it’s stuck in our minds as one of the places we really wanted to get back to.  We’re spending four nights this time, and are looking forward to seeing the city as a family.  Copenhagen has plenty of kid-friendly places to visit and things to do.  It’s full of parks and playgrounds in the city center (Danish companies design the majority of new playground equipment around the world), and since everyone bikes, walks, and takes the train, it’s easy to get around.

IMG_0277

Central Copenhagen

This trip will be the test of our planning, and also of our Airbnb skills.  We’re staying in a suites hotel in Chicago, but once we cross the ocean, it’s all Airbnb all the time.  To start things off, our accommodation in Helsinki is a three bedroom flat in Ruoholahti.  It looks to be an easy walk to the city center, or a very short tram ride.  It will be nice to have the space to give Baby Flyer her own room, so she can go to bed before we do (hopefully!)

Renting an entire flat or house really makes traveling with babies more enjoyable over a traditional hotel.  Having the space, as well as a kitchen, and if you’re lucky, laundry goes a long way.  There are of course some draw backs as well.  If you haven’t seen the property before, there’s really no guarantees on what it will be like, aside from reviews.  Plus, you’ll be hard pressed to find one that’s really baby-proof, but the same goes for hotels in general.  If you’re lucky, you can generally find a reasonably priced rental as well, especially when compared to the pricey hotels in this part of the world.

IMG_0274

Deer Park (Dyrehaven).  One of my favorite pictures from our last trip there.

After our time in Copenhagen, we start the trek back home again.  We first have a flight back to Helsinki, then a couple of hours to enjoy the airport lounge and collect ourselves before flying Helsinki to JFK, and JFK back to Los Angeles.  That will make for a long day, but it gets us back home seamlessly, and I managed to find some award space in business class on American’s premium transcon plane, so we’ll have space for the three of us.

Wish us luck & happy summer travels to you all!!

-CET, CAR & Baby Flyer