Puglia is underrated among tourists. Overshadowed by Tuscany, Venice, and Florence to the north and Sicily and islands, such as Capri, to the south, the capital Bari and its surrounding area offer hidden gems. Much like Naples in Campania, the area is grittier than most tourists prefer. But if you know where to visit, you can be safe and enjoy some must-see places. Long ago, before we were married and had our son, my husband and I ventured to Puglia. It. was. epic. See below for some highlights from our trip. You should put these sites on your bucket list:
We saw Puglia by car. The signs are easy to read and follow. My husband and I got a kick out of the town named Monopoli. We had a long-running inside joke with my parents about the game. We took this picture with them in mind. The Grotte di Castellana called our name. We had hoped to see the animals at the Zoosafari in nearby Fasano. But it was closed the day we were in town. Just our luck. Maybe someday we’ll get back there. I’ve heard good things.
Grotte di Castellana
The Grotte di Castellana are a study in science and a tourist attraction. Found in the town of Castellana Grotte, they are underground cavities, where limestone has eroded. Over time, this limestone has formed a landscape brimming with fissures, sinkholes, ridges, and towers. The most impressive scenery is the stalagmite and stalactite covering the ground and roof respectively. A museum neighbors the caverns. There, people can get a deeper understanding of the natural wonders they just visited.
In Alberobello, you might feel as though you’ve arrived in a giant Smurf village. The round rooftops of the houses, known as trulli, are among 51 sites in Italy on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. They are stunning. We looked at the town from above on a flat rooftop, and all you could see were these charming homes that didn’t even look real lining the streets. It was lovely to walk through the streets and just take in the scene. I also really enjoyed the shopping, which included many handmade souvenirs.
Pottery Offers Pizzazz
While I would never lug one of these babies home, I couldn’t help but photograph them. They were gorgeous. And the pottery piled together like that looked like a painting. The setting sun only added to the artistry. Although I was sad a vase of this stature was too big a purchase to bring home with me, I found other souvenirs. All these years later, I still cherish the treasures from Alberobello. I bought some beautifully decorated bath towels for relatives. Also, I found hand embroidered towels with images of the trulli on them. We still keep a mini trulli replica front and center in our china closet. The trip was a long time ago, but the memory lives on in our hearts.
This is the first in a series of stories about traveling to the island of Ischia in Italy.
Mine are the peasant people of Ischia in Italy. This island is considered a province of Naples in Italy. Ischia neighbors the more famous Capri. Another neighboring island, Procida, had its 15 minutes of fame when the charming film Il Postino was released. When my people left in the 1950s and 1960s, the island was suffering. World War II had decimated the economy of the entire country. And the spirit of the people was shaken. Italians are not ones for war. Truly, they are lovers and not fighters. Fighting Americans (many of whom were related) and changing sides took its toll.
Challenges Change the Islanders
Food and family are the top priorities in Italy. Back then, getting food on the table was difficult. My father disagrees. He doesn’t remember scrambling for a meal. But his older siblings have different memories. They were working the land to make ends meet. It was a tough life. In 1960, when my 13-year-old father left, everything changed. Tourism began to replace agriculture as the island’s prime business.
So, where is Ischia?
Well, it is the largest island in the Gulf of Naples. It is 17 miles southwest of Naples on the western edge of the gulf, according to the World Atlas. Foreigners travel by plane. Often, they have to take a flight to a European capital. Then, they take a shorter flight to Naples. During some times of the year, you can get direct flights from New York’s JFK.
You can easily access the island from Naples or Pozzuoli (birthplace of Sofia Loren). You simply have to take a boat or hydrofoil from either of those places. You go with the boat if you need to put a car or motor scooter on board with you. You go with the hydrofoil if you’re traveling without additional transportation. The hydrofoil, of course, is faster and takes about an hour. The boat will take about 1.5 to two hours. It all depends on whether you make a stop in Procida first.
What Makes the Geography Special
The island is actually a volcano. It last erupted 700 or so years ago. But in 2010 some experts warned it might blow again. No joke. Before you run away from Ischia, consider their final thoughts on the matter. The experts also said an eruption was not at all imminent. Still, they are monitoring it along with nearby Vesuvius.
These volcanic origins are not all bad. They provide rich soil for vegetation. You might credit it with the sweetest fruits and most delicious veggies you’ve ever eaten. Your body might also appreciate thermal waters and mud. Many athletes and ailing people come to Ischia for their healing powers.
For those who trace their roots to Ischia, it lives within the heart. It is where we find family and friends. It is where we find a slice of piece and Nonna’s parmigiana. Can’t beat that.
Traveling to New Jersey might not necessarily be on your family’s bucket list. But it should be. Getting to the Garden State is half the fun, sometimes more. Before you can get here, you have to figure out the best means of transportation for your family and you. You have three basic options, and they each have pros and cons. Check out the best ways to get to N.J. for your family vacation:
Road Trip to New Jersey
Details: Mine is a big state. To drive from one end to the other, you will spend three hours or more in the car or bus. There are plenty of both rest stops and sites to see along the way if you’re interested. In fact, the road trip itself makes for a great vacation regardless of the final destination. AAA offers maps, tips, and discounts to members planning road trips.
Questions to Ask Yourself: Is the point of this trip to see New Jersey and nearby states or is it to arrive at a destination? Are you traveling with kids or elderly people, who might not be able to endure many hours in the car? What is your budget and can you afford the time it takes to travel and the amount of gas you’ll need? What are your travel preferences? From where are you coming?
Best Fit: Road trips like this are best for those who are up for an adventure. You never know what can happen, especially if you’re driving from a far-away location. If you have little kids and elderly people with you, the car might not be the best option, especially if you’re coming a long distance.
For your safety (not to mention pleasure), you should consider taking it easy and making frequent stops. There are plenty of rest stops and sites to see along the way. Families may want to stop to see the Statue of Liberty, the Land of Make Believe, or Great Adventure. There’s also Liberty Science Center and a slew of historical sites, including all those places George Washington supposedly visited. Nearby states, including New York and Pennsylvania, offer other fun stops. Most importantly, you have to be willing to put up with the inconveniences of the car, the potential for traffic, and the possibility of accidents, such as blown out tires and the like.
Visiting by Train
Details: Amtrak offers trains through the Northeast corridor. More than 20 years ago, I often took these trains from Washington, D.C., where I attended university to either Penn Station in New York City or Newark, N.J. They offer a chance for quiet reflection and some scenic views. It took about as long as a car drive would have.
Questions to Ask: Is this trip more about the destination or the journey? How long are you willing to travel? The train can be cost effective, depending on the type of ticket and the distance, but it can be costly; what is your budget? Do you want to stop along the way or see other cities? Do you have any train enthusiasts traveling with you?
Best Fit: Of course, you have to be in an area from which trains to Jersey or a nearby city depart. You can even travel from Los Angeles to Newark, but it requires multiple train changes and layovers and more than a few days. It can cost as much as a plane, too. The point is you need to be looking for a more relaxed journey to your final destination. And you have to be able to take more time to get where you’re going. Also, the train stations are historic sites. But they can be dirty, and you don’t always find the best people hanging out there. Still, I never experienced any problems. I traveled during the day or early evening and passed through the stations just fine. Kids who are into trains might get a kick out of this to boot.
Flying In by Plane
Details: Visitors to New Jersey can fly into Newark, Philadelphia, or New York City (JFK or LaGuardia) and still have decent access to the state. Obviously, Philadelphia is best if you’re planning to visit more southern parts of the state. New York, on the other hand, is best if you’re going to be in the northern part of the state.
Questions to Ask: This is the costliest option in most cases, so is this in your budget? Do you need to arrive in the state quickly? How are your kids on flights?
Best Fit: This is a great option for families. You will arrive at the destination the fastest. You will need to rent a car or take a cab or bus to your final destination from the airport, especially if you flew into New York or Philadelphia. Of course, you have to budget for those additional costs. The plane is comfortable and safe. And you get the most time at the actual destination because you get there quickly. To be honest, whenever I can afford to travel by plane, I do it.
Family vacation New Jersey is not a phrase you often hear. After all, my home state has a bad reputation. I never realized this fact until I attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Many of us came from New Jersey, but the others – many of whom were from Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and New York – constantly put down our place and our people.
Back then, HBO’s Sopranos was one of the most popular shows on television. In one way, New Jersey experienced a renaissance during that time because people who never paid attention to it were suddenly interested. In another way, it worsened the rep by making everyone think that corruption was rampant.
Misconceptions about New Jersey
We New Jerseyans heard it all. You live in the “armpit of America.” Isn’t New Jersey just a turnpike? As an Italian American who came from northern New Jersey just like the characters and many of the actual actors on the Sopranos, I was often asked, “Are you in the mafia?” Oy!
Truly, I could not believe what people thought of my lovely home state. In defending N.J., I grew to appreciate all it had to offer. I ended up writing a book, Fun with the Family New Jersey (Globe Pequot Press, 2012), and I continue to discover its many wonders. I encourage others to do the same. The first step in planning a trip to New Jersey is deciding on which part to zone in. Discover the regions of the state and what they have to offer:
Family Vacation New Jersey: Northern New Jersey
Home sweet home is what comes to mind whenever I think about northern New Jersey. This is where I grew up. It has way more to offer than the strip clubs made famous in the Sopranos or the various restaurants where New Jersey Housewives have exploded on each other in front of Bravo TV cameras. Lots of famous people have lived here, including Frank Sinatra (in Hoboken), John Travolta (in Englewood), Eddie Murphy (in Englewood), and of course James Gandolfini (Park Ridge).
Here you’ll find pieces of New Jersey’s history, particularly as it relates to the Revolutionary War and the leadership of our first President George Washington. At the Fort Lee Historic Park, you can take check out Revolutionary cannons and a museum. You can also take epic photos of the George Washington Bridge made famous by Gov. Chris Christie, who allegedly loaded up traffic as an act of revenge to the town’s mayor who would not back him.
In Paramus, you’ll find lots of grand malls for shopping. The best part is you pay no sales tax on clothes in New Jersey. The Jets and the Giants play at the Meadowlands, where you’ll also find many concerts and other entertainment throughout the year. You can seek out your inner Einstein at Liberty Science Center, or check out the digs of inventor Thomas Edison. Not many people realize this, but you can also get to the Statue of Liberty from Jersey, which is a nicer ride than the one in Battery Park, in my humble opinion. New York City and the other boroughs, not to mention Connecticut, are a hop skip and a jump from northern N.J., so there are plenty of day trips to plan.
Family Vacation New Jersey: Central New Jersey
When trashing New Jersey, people often forget it is the Garden State for a reason. This is where we grow fresh Jersey tomatoes, sweet summer corn, and fall’s favorite cranberries. And central New Jersey is where you’ll be reminded that the state has its countryside, too. Forget the farmer’s market. You can go directly to the source and pick your own peaches, strawberries, and other goodies all summer long. But the fall is the best time to head to one of the farms, including Alstede Farms in Chester, N.J. Hay rides, pumpkin picking, and interactions with the farm animals can’t be beat.
In central New Jersey, you’ll also find the historic towns of Princeton and Trenton. Perhaps, Princeton is best known for the university. But it also home to Drumthwacket, the residence of the governor and his family, and the Princeton Battlefield, site of a Revolutionary War battle that is now a great place for hiking and bird watching in the midst of history. Trenton is the state capital, so you can visit the New Jersey State House. But you can also travel back in time by visiting the British soldier’s barracks at the Old Barrack’s Museum or the oldest house in the city, the Willian Trent House.
The Garden State Discovery Museum with its hands-on exhibits for kids in Cherry Hill and Camden, which is home to the Adventure Aquarium and Camden Children’s Garden are perfect destinations for families. Of course, you can easily visit nearby Philadelphia, too.
Family Vacation New Jersey: Southern New Jersey
South Jersey is where everyone goes down the shore. This is the best known region for family travel and with good reason. Nobody does summer quite like the Jersey Shore. Truly, you have a bevy options. Wildwood, Seaside Heights, and Point Pleasant offer the beach and the boardwalk for kids and kids at heart alike. In Asbury Park, you can check out the Stone Pony, where rockers such as N.J. native Bruce Springsteen launched his career. (This is also the part of the state from whence Bon Jovi came, so it’s kind of sacred ground as home to Tommy and Gina, who are still “living on a prayer” as far as I know.)
Atlantic City is full of must-see attractions, even if you’re not a gambler or have kids with you . The Steel Pier offers lots of fun rides and games for the whole family. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not offers unbelievable stuff to spark the imagination. A quick stop at White House for sub sandwiches that still attract the rich and famous whets the appetite. But don’t forget to grab some salt water taffy for dessert.
Near Atlantic City in Margate, you’ll find Lucy the Elephant, which makes for a great photo backdrop. Another must do in south Jersey is Cape May. Here, you’ll find the beach, a zoo, and the famous Victorian houses, some of which are open for tours. If you read this far, you now realize that New Jersey is in no way America’s garbage dump. In fact, it is the flowering garden of the United States.
Non-school vacations, when parents take their children out of school to go on holiday, are stirring up controversy. The British Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of the school that fined a father in the United Kingdom for taking his then 6-year-old daughter out of school for a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla. This case had people online, including the popular podcast Dis Unplugged, buzzing about whether it is all right for parents to take their kids out of school for a vacation.
Non-School Vacations Ruling Speaks to Bigger Problems
Even though the fine was small (about $180), the U.K. father wanted to make a point about the rights he has to parent his kid the way he wants. And ultimately he failed. Find out why you should side with dad in this case:
Parents Know Their Own Kids
This dad clearly felt his daughter could handle a week off from school. Some parents know their kid can’t miss the work and still keep up, so they do not take off unless the school is closed. While schools have good intentions and teachers can get to know their students fairly well, most parents know their own kids better. Ideally, the teachers and the parents are regularly communicating about what’s happening in school and at home, so that everyone can make more informed, customized decisions about each child’s education.
Grown-Ups Can Be Responsible
Unless they are abusing or neglecting their kids or acting immaturely or irresponsibly themselves, parents are adults capable of making responsible decisions. This father had not come up on charges of abuse or neglect. In fact, according to reports, his daughter had a 90+ attendance rate at school before and after the trip. Clearly, she and her parents were showing up, which demonstrates some responsibility.
Micro-Managing Parents Is Uncool
We joke about how in the 1970s our parents let us walk to the park by ourselves when we were in elementary school or how seat belts were optional, and we miraculously survived. Nowadays, we’ve gone to the complete opposite extreme. Now, we reprimand, fine, or even jail parents for allowing their kids an Oreo cookie at lunch, to walk anywhere by themselves until they are well into their teens, or take a vacation when school is open. Some of these changes are positive; seat belts and child safety seats are a great thing. But we’ve gone from one extreme to another. We need to find the sweet spot in the center. Let parents take that stick out of you know where and do their thing. An Oreo now and then won’t kill the kid and a modicum of independence might help us all.
Kids Should Be Kids
A teen who misses a week during junior year of high school, when the pressure is on to prepare for college admissions is one thing. A child in elementary school, especially in kindergarten or first grade, is another. Sure, school is always important. But soon enough kids will be growing up and getting jobs full of responsibility. Let them be kids while they’re kids. Life is too short to be a grown up from the start. Missing first grade should not be a life sentence to mediocrity. It should mean having to catch up on playing house and sounding out words. Of course, the amount of time one is absent should make a difference, too. A week is not three weeks, which is different and could require some sort of repercussions. Still, youth should be on the side of the dad and his daughter in this case.
The Vacation Might Be Better for Development Than School
This idea might be the most controversial opinion I’m sharing here. But I have found that when I can focus my attention solely on my child, he pays more attention, behaves better, and seems to feel more secure. Work and school get in the way of all that. On vacation, I can really place my energy on talking and bonding with my son. We’re both more relaxed than usual. Any chance we get to do that is fine by me. I’m not sure if he’s ever going to remember the algebra he will eventually learn, but I know he’ll remember our times at Disney World and in Italy forever. He is going to be this small for a short time, and it’s already flying by me. Kids who spend real quality time with their parents – eating at the dinner table, going on vacation – are less prone to peer pressure and, I would bet, do better in life.
My Child, My Choice
The bottom line is that this father should have had the right to make decisions about his daughter without interference from the government. While education is of the utmost importance, and I value teachers and all they do for us, in the end, my son is mine. He’s my responsibility. The same is true for this father and his daughter. As a result, we should all be able to make decisions we think are right for our children. Period.
Essex County Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, N.J. is a quaint day trip for New Jerseyans or visitors to the area. The kids had a blast running through fountains that were turned on to help people cool off, gawking at the sea lions (see above), and feeding the birds. Discover what you’ll experience should you make the journey to TBZ:
In the above sign, you’ll notice Family Fun Nights in the summer and ads for the Zoological Society of New Jersey. Encouraging guests to “have a wild day” was perfect for me and mine.The Turtle Back Zoo offers locals many opportunities to connect with nature. We were braving the zoo with three kids 5 and under. Indeed, it was wild. Frankly, the kids might have been wilder than the animals they were seeing.
The Charm of Turtle Back Zoo
Appropriately, the first animals we saw upon our visit to the Turtle Back Zoo were turtles. Actually, they were tortoises, but close enough. What fascinated the kids? The baby pooping right before their eyes. They found it downright hilarious. And we adults had the chance to sing, “Everybodyyyyy poopssss,” ala Dinosaur Train. My son was really looking forward to seeing the stars of Happy Feet, but there was a long penguin in the habitat, which had my sister the professional zookeeper concerned. Still, despite that disappointment, we charged on.
One of the unique aspects of the zoo is the interactive aviary. Guests are not allowed to touch the birds, which include parakeets (see photo below), but they can feed them. You can purchase sticks with birdseed on them and hold them out for the birds to come to you. The kids went wild. The birds were chirping directly in their ears and munching the food off the sticks that they held in their hands. My son and niece had grins as wide as the Hudson. My mom was another story. She had birds sitting on her feet and trying to fly up her leg because much of the bird seed lands on the ground. My sister-in-law and I had to maneuver the strollers with bird seeds on the wheels without rolling over an unsuspecting parakeet.
Sea lions and monkeys are always entertaining. A small petting zoo with all the usual suspects, including goats, rounded out the highlights. As we walked out of the gift shop on our way out of the zoo, a lovely peacock walked up to us and displayed his plumage despite the rain storm. The promise of giraffes existed when we went to the zoo, but they had not arrived yet. As of 2016, you can find them in the African Adventure.
What’s lovely about these little zoos is that they are not so overwhelming. The three kids actually amused themselves by observing the animals and taking in the details of the zoo. There was an elephant statue that they all climbed on to take a picture. Running through the fountains (see below) was not just for cooling off. It was also a memory in the making. They were dancing around without a care in the world, and it brought us all back to our own childhood. Isn’t that, in part, what a day at the zoo is all about?
Lavazza, one of the big coffee companies in Italy, is promising to bring imagination to the country’s restaurant scene while invigorating its hometown. Its new headquarters in Torino, which is slated to open at the end of 2017, is more than mere office; it’s also a destination for visitors. One of the biggest draws is CONDIVIDERE by Lavazza, a restaurant that is aiming to change the way people think about food and eating. Lavazza announced the restaurant concept early in March, so there are still few specific details. Learn about what we know so far:
Coffee to Jolt the Experience
Appropriately, coffee will take the main stage in the Lavazza restaurant. “Lavazza is strongly committed to creating a new restaurant where the coffee experience is at the forefront of every dish, making it a unique concept found nowhere else,” according to the press release. There is little explanation of what this means. But am I wrong to imagine coffee rubs on meat or espresso in desserts or even a hint of coffee in a pasta dish? I’ve had a gourmet meal in Ischia, where chocolate was used in a pasta sauce, and it was surprisingly delicious. Maybe Lavazza could make coffee and pasta – among Italy’s main food groups – marry and live happily ever after. Who am I to judge? Lavazza is, after all, the company that gave us coffee caviar. True story.
Lavazza Hires an Experienced Team
Chef Ferran Adrià
Interestingly, Chef Ferran Adrià, who co-created the concept for the restaurant, isn’t Italian. He’s Spanish. More than celebrity chef, Adrià was called a “gastronomic genius” by The New York Times. During his time as head chef of elBulli, which Restaurant Magazine named as world’s best restaurant five times from 2002 to 2009, according to the Times, he helped people reimagine food. Americans would know him as the guy who turned food into foam and made that a thing in foodie circles. When he shut the doors of his restaurant in 2011, people wondered why. It might have been money troubles and family in-fighting or it could have been the desire to avoid repeating himself; you can decide for yourself after reading the Times article. Either way, Lavazza now has him helping it, presumably to reimagine how people consume coffee and the traditional dishes of Torino and its region.
Chef Federico Zanasi
Federico Zanasi is the chef at the helm, however. Italy’s La Stampa described Zanasi as “giovane e brillante,” which means “young and brilliant.” He comes from Hotel Principe delle Nevi, a five-star restaurant in Cervinia, which is alpine resort territory known for skiing. Indeed, Zanasi is the chosen one. Adrià, who had worked with him, according to La Stampa, selected him for the job. The restaurant is already promoting its commitment to “food democracy,” an idea that has galvanized many Americans recently but has long been a part of the Italian culture. Basically, it’s a belief that food should be food without chemicals or byproducts. Everything should be fresh. But it’s not just about being healthy; it’s also about making everything delicious in its simplicity.
Set Designer Dante Ferretti
The trifecta of greatness would be incomplete without the set designer, three-time Academy Award winner Dante Ferretti. He’s developing the interior of the restaurant. It will be urban, modern, and colorful, and will perfectly reflect Zanasi’s concepts for the menu, according to La Stampa. His Oscar-winning touch brought us The Aviator, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Hugo Cabret. Now, he’ll bring his vision to a place where people will gather to eat. The interior will undoubtedly be a showstopper, but it’s not just about looking at what’s around your own table. The place is going to be like a character, one can imagine. There will be movement. In fact, the press release explains that guests will actually move from one setting to another to enjoy different parts of the meal.
More Than Good Eats
The restaurant is more than a restaurant, of course. Yes, it’s also the Lavazza company headquarters. In addition, visitors will find the Lavazza Museum, which is being designed by Ralph Appelbaum, who designed the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Hall of Biodiversity at the American Museum of Natural History. A convention center and a farm-to-table dining hall for employees and students of the nearby Istituto d’Arte Applicata e Design (IADD) round out the offerings. Of course, a place like this wouldn’t be Italian if it didn’t include a “lush, green” piazza for people watching and gathering. There visitors will find artifacts from a 4th and 5th century A.D. paleo-Christian basilica that the company found during construction, according to the press release.
A Higher Purpose for Lavazza
Finally, the name of the restaurant, CONDIVIDERE, is significant. It means to share. This place is intended to be as much about new concepts in food as an affirmation of the human need to break bread together. Perhaps, Adrià put it best in his discussion with La Stampa, where he waxed philosophical about the place. “You will find a place in which you feel at ease and have the desire to be together,” he said, according to my translation. “The intention is to provide exceptional cuisine that brings to the forefront man’s need to socialize, share, and analyze what’s on the table in a show of love for food.” Now, that kind of thinking couldn’t be more Italian.
This is the second in a series of lessons I learned traveling with my now 5-year-old son since he was a baby. The lessons are designed to help parents learn from my experiences and mistakes to have a smoother travel experience every time they muster the courage to take baby (or little men and little ladies) on a magnificent journey. You can read the first lesson, How to Pick a Family Friendly Airline.
Lesson No. 2: Pack Up the Goodies
Pack distractions. Distractions can save a mamma’s life. I have firsthand knowledge. Packing the carry-on bags for any journey, but especially a lengthy one, is of the utmost importance. What you need to do is pack a slew of goodies to keep your child distracted in between naps on one of those lengthy flights. I’ve been bringing my son, who is now 5, back and forth between Italy and the United States since he was 6 months old. Pack correctly and ye shall survive such traumas. Discover what’s always in my bag:
Cash – in both the currencies from which and to which you are traveling – is important. You never know when you’ll need it. Of course, you must bring passports and identification for everyone traveling, including the little ones. One item many moms don’t realize they need is their child’s birth certificate. This is especially important if you and your child have different last names. In Germany, while in the airport on a layover, I was almost forced to part with my then 9-month-old son because I had only our passports and no birth certificate; the customs agents feared I was kidnapping my baby. A heated conversation and a phone call to my husband resolved the matter, but they warned that I should never travel without his birth certificate again. Indeed, I now take it with me even to the supermarket in Italy.
Food and Drink
No mamma ever wants a hangry child. A child – like any person – becomes unbearable when hungry. Imagine that kind of crankypants on a six- or ten- or 15-hour flight. Yikes! Always pack snacks. My son prefers pretzels, cheese crackers, or Cheerios. I carry them in resealable bags or little containers, and we’re good to go. Pick up a bottle of water (or a small container of milk for the start of the journey) once you’re in the terminal. Of course, bring whatever you need for younger babies, who require formula or baby food. Security will test any liquid items, and you’ll be on your way. Just don’t pack a lot of junk food, especially if your kid is not used to eating it. On one flight, I gave my son his favorite indulgence – Oreos – and it ended with projectile vomit.
A few weeks before we leave for Italy, I usually go around the house collecting some of his favorite tiny toys. He has a couple of cars, small action figures, and the like that can keep him busy for quite a while. I take them out of the rotation and put them near the luggage, where he can’t easily find them. Then, I pull them out one by one during the course of our flights. (It often requires to flights and a boat ride to get to our second home, Ischia, Italy.) I try to add one to three new toys (usually from the dollar store) to the mix. I pull out those when times get really tough in flight. Nothing like a little surprise – something shiny and new – to distract you from your troubles.
Of course, you don’t want to carry too many books because that can weigh you down, especially if you have to run a marathon to reach a connecting flight in time. But a couple of small books to read and a few activity books and crayons or a pencil have pulled me out of a few ditches. My son particularly likes sticker books that have you finding stickers at the back of the book to place in short stories at the front. He also enjoys activity books that offer opportunities for him to learn to draw something, such as animals, or punch out card stock figures to build or make something. I track this kind of book down on Amazon or at the dollar store. I always look for deals, so I buy them when I find them and not necessarily just before we’re about to travel.Another favorite are the Highlights seek and find books for which he has a subscription. Keep stock and save stuff, so it’s completely new when he sees it on the plane.
My work forces me to carry my laptop with me wherever I go. So, we always have at least one computer. My son also owns a Kindle that is well stocked with his favorite movies, TV shows, and some games. Also, he recently received a LeapPad as a gift. I charge these babies to the max before our flight and bring them everywhere we go. They are not only for the plane. They are perfect for when we force him to spend many hours at dinner with only adults, a common occurrence for the poor little guy in Italy.
No mamma should go home without extra clothes for the kiddies and her (and anyone else who is traveling with her). Don’t forget extra underwear and socks, maybe a clean pair of pajamas in addition to clothes. When that projectile vomit hit, my son and I were covered in toxicity. Those extra clothes came in handy. For my son, even though he’s 5 years old and potty trained, I still bring diapers and wipes. Diapers or pull ups are safer when young kids are planning to sleep in the plane, or at least that’s been my experience. Tissues and children’s Tylenol are among the other must haves to pack.
Mamma’s goal should be to make the flight as comfortable as possible for her child (or children, God bless you). I bring pajamas for my son to change into when he’s ready to sleep. A favorite blankie and stuffed animal always comes along for the ride, too. He has earphones, so he can watch whatever movie the plane offers, and a neck pillow to help him get cozy.
This is the first in a series of lessons I learned traveling with my now 5-year-old son since he was a baby. The lessons are designed to help parents learn from my experiences and mistakes to have a smoother travel experience every time they muster the courage to take baby (or little men and little ladies) on a magnificent journey.
Lesson No. 1 – Find a Family Friendly Airline
Traveling with a baby requires a heart, stomach, and mind of steel. My son was only six months old before he traveled by plane with my husband and me. And it was no simple plane ride. We were heading to Ischia, Italy, which requires two flights (one lengthy flight from New York or Newark to a European capital, one short connecting flight to Naples, Italy, and one 1.5- to 2-hour boat ride to Ischia, Italy). When we set off, we didn’t know what lie ahead, but we had vetted the airline to make sure it was family friendly.
To start our journey, we said tearful good-byes to my parents because we’d be gone for a few months, which is akin to a lifetime with an infant. Then, we rolled through security and boarded the plane with virtually no problem. The little guy was being an angel. Once aboard, we settled in. Lufthansa has carriers that hang on the wall of the first row of the economy class. All the families with infants are seated there, and the plane’s staff checked in with us from the start. We’ve traveled on other airlines, including Jet Blue, Alitalia, and Air France, and none of them were as accommodating to the kids. I kicked back and planned to nap along with my son.
But alas I would never get to dream aboard that flight. Before I could drift off to Dreamland, my son cried in hunger. I had him latch onto my breast and used a blankie to be discreet. He was happily drinking when the child next to us began screaming…loudly…and with oomph. Even though his mother seemed unbothered, I felt for her when the cries became prolonged. I knew what all the other passengers were thinking. I mean if looks could kill, well you know what would have happened. This scenario had been my biggest concern pre-trip, so I was sympathetic.
The airline attendants flocked to the mom, and gave her a hand. Finally, she soothed her son. But mine was already too distracted to breast feed (read more about that in a future post) or go right back to sleep. Still, he was being sweet and not giving anyone a problem. He did eventually go to sleep. Indeed, he mostly slept on that long flight. Of course, he has always been a powerful pooper, so we did have to make a few trips to change diapers in the airplane’s bathroom.
As for as airplane bathrooms go, this was one of the best. The bad news was that I actually had to carry the baby and go down steps to get to the bathrooms. The good news is that they were roomy compared to what we’d later face on other airlines, and there was plenty of room on the baby changing table that was provided.
Questions Parents Should Ask the Airlines
If you’re looking for a family friendly airline, particularly for a baby 2 and under, then you should ask the following questions of the airline beforehand:
Where do babies sit on the plane generally? (Lufthansa, for instance, provides those baby carriers that hook to the wall, and make it easy for baby to get comfortable, stretch out, and sleep.)
What is the general approach if a baby is crying or having a hard time in flight?
How much do they charge for baby? (In general, babies under 2 years old are free.)
What about baby’s stuff? (You are usually allowed to bring a stroller and car seat for free and not as part of your allotted luggage.)
What about baby’s food, formula, milk? (My son is a milkaholic, and we can still bring some milk for him on the plane – not necessarily from the gate – but the airport’s security, depending on the country, has some rules about it. In the United States, the security agents have to pass the milk through a test on a machine before we can bring it on board. There are also limits to how much milk, formula, etc. you can bring but it’s a decent amount and should get you through the flight and beyond.)
Is there anything else the airline would like parents to know before buying a ticket?
One bonus with Lufthansa was that they gave my son and the other children in flight an age appropriate gift. My son received a plush birdie busting out of an egg. It was soft and cuddly and small enough for his tiny hands. He still has it, actually. Yep, Lufthansa is one of the good ones for baby.
In recent years, people have been tough on zoos and aquariums. The argument is that animals should not be locked up; instead, we should let them live in peace in nature and shut down these zoos. They have been talked about as outdated and decidedly unfriendly to all that is natural. I take a decidedly different position. It’s not just because I’m the sister of a zookeeper. Okay, that has something to do with it. She has educated me and continues to do so. But it’s also a result of my years as a self-proclaimed environmentalist.
Yep, I’ve been a tree hugger since the late 1980s when I read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth, which revolutionized my life. While I’m still not made of granola, I did help launch recycling in my town; in middle school, I actually spent my lunch periods analyzing garbage to determine how much could be recycled and how cost effective it would be. It worked, and I even won an American Legion award for my efforts. The reason I’m digressing is I want to show you that I have some street cred when it comes to this topic and that it’s not coming out of nowhere. Here are why families should consider getting zoo memberships:
1. SEEING IS BELIEVING
You can talk to kids about the world around them all you want. But until you show them what you’re talking about, they don’t always understand. Seeing animals, some of which are endangered or near extinction, helps connects kids with them. My sister has shared her love of animals with my son, niece, and nephew from when they were wee little ones. None of them are afraid. My son was the only one in his class on a recent trip to the farm, who was willing to pet a chicken and milk a cow. He now knows that the milk (which supports his milkaholism) comes from a cow, and he understands exactly the process of getting it. Besides making him more appreciative, he was able to talk to me about how the cows have to stay healthy for him to get his milk. This was extra amazing for him because he had delayed speech and is only really starting to communicate regularly with us now.
2. A CHANCE FOR EDUCATION
At the zoo, you’ll find plaques offering facts about the animals and sometimes even the plant life in an exhibit. My 6-year-old niece read every single one on our most recent visit. She learned about antelope and baboons, like the family in the photos here. A few zookeepers and volunteer educators stopped to see if we had questions and shared info, such as how the rhino’s horn is made of the same stuff as our nails. My niece also read a few quotes about why learning about animals is important. Basically, she decided she needs to understand animals, so she can recognize their place in our world and protect it. It’s a good lesson indeed. And that little lady will do it, I guarantee.
3. SUPPORT CONSERVATION
The money you spend on a membership helps maintain the zoo, the animals’ home, but it also helps pay for research and conservation efforts. My sister is a zookeeper in Florida, and she has traveled to help birds in the wild migrate or breed as part of her job. She also has friends who have helped save wildlife trapped in oil spills. There are all sorts of conservation projects in which zoos participate. They also make the habitats for each animal as close to nature as they can, which is in and of itself a conservation effort. It is not just a superficial means of re-branding zoos that have been criticized for locking up animals, even if that’s part of the motivation; it’s also a way to keep the animals and nature in balance and to improve the animals’ lives. This all costs money. Doing good ain’t cheap, folks.
4. MAKE MEMORIES
Disney commercials often warn parents that they have a limited number of years while their children are young to enjoy family trips all together. While the company’s motives are obviously to make a buck, it still holds true. The delight on the face of my child when he witnessed the ostrich’s racing one another or when he saw the baboons hugging one another was priceless. The fact that we were at the Boo at the Zoo event, so he and his cousins were in their costumes and I sometimes sported a witch’s hat made the day all the more fun. He was learning, we were bonding, and all the while we were just having fun.
5. SAVE MONEY
While a Disney trip could break the bank, a zoo membership could actually be affordable and it can save you money. I opted for the membership when we wanted to go to the Boo at the Zoo event at the Bronx Zoo because it was only a few dollars more than the cost of the total experience ticket for one day for each of us. In the end, I spent $175 (there was a $20 discount when I bought into the family premium offer). Of course, your local zoos membership fees may be different. You’ll have to check with each for prices. With the Bronx Zoo, for one year, my mom, husband, three kids, and me are covered for the total experience anytime we want to go. That means, we don’t have to pay for parking, entrance, or most of the extras, such as the monorail, butterfly garden, etc. In addition, admission to four other places – the New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo, and Prospect Park Zoo – are covered. We did have to pay $7 per person for the camel rides. But the trip was still a bargain, and we received discounts in the souvenir shop and for food and drink purchases. For me, frankly, those broad smiles and precious pictures of the kids and animals already made it worth it, and our year of membership has only just begun.