The Travelers Return: My 5 Travel Gear Favorites

06.03.11 9 months, 2 weeks

Well! I’m sorry I vanished so suddenly—I planned to write a nice long post before we left for Europe but I got pretty sidetracked, as you can imagine. We’re back! We spent a little more than two weeks in France this year, and overall it went really, really well. I want to share some of the gear that made our lives easier.

1. The Peapod tent.

Kidco sent me two sizes of the Peapod tent to try out along with the GoPod play pod thing. We took the smaller one to use as Tucker’s bed. It was amazing—it weighs less than five pounds, and it folds down really small so that it fits easily into a normal suitcase. The mattress inflates; we didn’t bother taking a pump so it was a little bit of a chore to inflate it each time, but not terrible. I love, love, love that it zips closed and has mesh sides, so we didn’t have to worry about bugs bothering Tucker while he slept (since there never seem to be window screens anywhere in Europe, there were always stray flies getting in during the day). It was just reassuring to know he was tucked away. We could also control the light level (since there weren’t really shades on the windows, either) by draping my nursing cover over part of the top. Hilariously, Tucker was obsessed with the zipper and if we didn’t leave the closure right at the top of the the zipper he’d work his fingers through and try to open it. He slept rolled all the way against the door of the tent, bulging out the side, and when Ben went to get him in the morning he’d press his face up against the mesh until he had a little pug/pig nose!

The one downside is that the mattress goes in a pocket under the floor of the tent, so there’s no sheet and the baby is directly on the nylon floor. As long as the room wasn’t too warm, it was fine, but there were definitely some pretty sweaty naps!

2. The Ergo carrier.

Obviously I’ve written about this one a million times, but man, this trip would have been MUCH harder without the Ergo. Combined with our umbrella stroller (more on that in a moment), we were able to get around pretty easily. Train transfers are definitely easier with the carrier. We didn’t even take a stroller on our day trip out to Versailles, since we planned to rent bikes for part of the day.

We spent the first week in the Loire valley and visited a few chateaux—the carrier was definitely better for climbing up and down all the stairs. And on days with a lot of shopping, the Ergo was terrific in crowded markets and tiny shops. Also wonderful on the plane: On the trip home, which was a daytime flight, Tucker slept for 40 minutes. Of a 7.5 hour flight. He wasn’t crying or upset, he was just awake. So being able to walk around the plane with him in the Ergo provided a good way to break up stretches of playing with him in the seat, and it helped him rest and relax, as well.

(Ooh, I just saw on the Ergo website that they are adding adorable patterned options starting this month! We like the neutral navy one, since Ben does a lot of the carrying, but the patterns are so cute.)

3. Phil & Ted’s MeToo chair.

My parents gave Tucker the MeToo chair for Christmas, and we took it along as our travel highchair since it folds flat and only weighs about 4.5 pounds. We’ve found that it isn’t the best choice in restaurants if a real highchair is available, because Tucker’s, um, enthusiasm leads to a LOT of bouncing and shaking, and a lot of restaurants have pedestal tables that aren’t stable enough. He’s strong, you guys. But it works SO well hooked onto a countertop or sturdy table with legs.

The chair and the PeaPod tent packed into the bottom of the big duffle I used for my stuff and Tucker’s, and they barely took up any room (though they did add weight, which was a bit of a problem since I’d gone way over on that bag).

4. The Bebe au Lait nursing cover.

Nursing cover. Sunshade. Napping-baby-cover. Blanket. Light-blocker over the PeaPod tent. Peekaboo prop. SO USEFUL.

5. The Uppababy G-Luxe

I had the chance to try out the Uppababy and a Maclaren umbrella stroller, and I’m going to write up my experience in a future post because it was a really tough call and each one works well depending on your priorities. We took the Uppababy on the trip because it has a superior sunshade, which we used constantly. The stroller. Was. Awesome. It has a little stand that lets you balance it upright when it’s folded, which is great in places like train stations:

There’s a good recline, and I figured out that my nursing cover fits over it perfectly (hook the neck strap around the foot area and tuck the corners into the hinges on the shade) so you can really enclose a sleeping baby:

Like I said, more on this next time. But the high-quality (ie. good sunshade, recline, sturdy wheels vs. one of those $20 ones) umbrella stroller was definitely the way to go. They even let us carry it ON the plane, and then store it in a cupboard. Air France was awesome, you guys. Anyway, I barely saw any big strollers like we use here. Too bulky! (Ben had said we should take the big Uppababy Vista and I refused; he spent the whole trip turning to me in tight spots and saying “Boy, it’s a good thing I didn’t let you bring the big stroller!”)

I have a lot that I can say about the trip overall. Tucker managed the time change very well—we just went straight to our normal times from day one, and he shifted with us, thanks to a very shortened night of sleep on the flight over. He spent the trip taking huge leaps forward: He suddenly got really good at a very precise pincer-grip to feed himself even the tiniest bits of bread and cheese; he fell in love with yogurt; he finally got up on his hands and knees and started rocking; his backwards army crawl increased in speed and purpose by about tenfold. He’s a good little traveler and we had a great time, though vacations sure are a different kettle of fish with a baby... (One big tip: We found a babysitter in Paris through my cousin who is in college; she posted on a web board for students studying abroad. GREAT choice. Getting out for dinner two nights made a big difference in how vacation-y it felt since I was pretty tired of planning and cooking dinner every night!)

Does anyone have any questions or tips or anything you’d like to discuss?

Kate Flaim is a freelance journalist and food blogger based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.