Parents take baby steps on first family vacation

Parents take baby steps on first family vacation

PARIS — Seven shots of espresso down and three boarding passes to Paris in hand, I step onto the plane with my 16-pound daughter strapped to my body. I shuffle down the narrow aisles, bumping my carry-on side to side with one hand and restraining my daughter’s flailing limbs with the other. She is trying to get her slobbery little hands on the faces of everyone we pass. Her spit-up has caked my hair into clumps and my entire shirt is soaked from her drool. “Keep your chin up, only eight hours to go.”
In my childless days, I remember seeing mothers struggling as they made their way through the airport. They juggled luggage, children and a dozen other items. I used to think “That poor woman. Thank God that isn’t me.”
As I plop down into my seat, it hits me: “I am now that woman!”

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Above: Writer Chelsea Shim Sharma with husband Dee and little Ari, enjoying the delights of Venice. The couple’s European adventure presented challenges but cool heads prevailed.

When my pregnancy was confirmed last year, the overwhelming excitement faded and anxiety took over. Will having a baby halt my global travel plans? Are road trips and repeated vacations to theme parks all that is in store for me?  
   These thoughts consumed me for the next week. There was only one solution to put my concerns to rest. At less than two months pregnant, I jumped the gun and booked a European vacation to Paris and Venice for three: Me, my husband, Dee, and our unborn child. With no known gender, nameless and without a passport, this little fetus had a big adventure ahead of it.
   More than one year later with my now 6-month-old daughter, Ari in tow, here goes:

Day 1: YYZ to CDG

Three large suitcases, three carry on bags, a stroller, car seat and playpen — 80 per cent of our baggage is exclusively for the baby. Ari was our VIP badge for bypassing lines at security and customs. Thanks to our little  peanut, we were entitled access to the separate, and much shorter, family and disability line. This is the first perk of travelling with a baby.
The time gained bypassing crowded lines was lost at security. The travelling process was too smooth so far, I knew
 it had to catch up to us. We declared the liquids in the diaper bag needed for Ari. Every bottle of water and package of baby food — and we had many — was individually inspected and tested. This was a slow and tedious process that left both the security agent and myself visibly irritated.
The evening flight coincided with Ari’s bedtime. She slept for five hours on the plane. As everyone and their mother recommends, I fed her a bottle during takeoff. The sucking motion allows ears to pop and provides relief from the air pressure changes.
At the halfway point to Paris, Dee and I passed the 24-hour mark without sleep. Our brains stopped working. Our patience was running thin. During the three hours Ari was awake, she squirmed, fussed and showcased her vocal skills to the fellow passengers trying to sleep. Buyer’s remorse was kicking in.

Day 2: First Day in Paris

Day 2 was an extension of a never-ending Day 1. Thanks to the time change, we were technically on a not-so-fresh, new day.  
The deadly combination of micro-sized European rooms and the excessive baggage needed for a baby meant every square inch of our hotel room was covered in Ari’s baby gear.  
We took a much needed nap and woke up at 9 p.m. with a ravenous appetite. Ari’s baby food was tasting great for the first time — I was in survival mode. Ari was finally in a deep sleep. This was the long-awaited break I prayed for all day. Plans for fine dining were thrown out and we fell back on UberEats. Thirty minutes later, I was sitting in bed with a sleepy baby and a paper bag filled with falafel. Decisions like this is how I maintained my sanity. We planned to rest up and get an early morning start.

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Above: Little Ari uses some of Paris' most famous landmarks as her very own playpen.

Day 3: The Louvre and a Fondue Fail

Everyone slept in.
We cancelled our 11 a.m. lunch reservation and opted for quick street crepes instead — I quickly regretted this.
Our Uber arrived and we struggled to install the car seat base.The driver was unimpressed with the five-minute delay and our passenger rating took a hit.
We arrived at the Louvre and orchestrated a mini photo shoot in front of the famed pyramid. The crowds and lineups were daunting. We avoided the long ticket queue by purchasing our passes in advance online. I am so grateful we did.
We saw the Mona Lisa. We saw the Venus de Milo. That was enough museum excitement for the day.
Our daughter decided the Louvre was her favourite place to drop her No. 2s. Needless to say, we spent more time in the bathroom than the exhibits themselves. The changing stations were well stocked with supplies — this is something only a parent can appreciate.
We had a few hours to kill before dinner. Going back to the hotel midday is always a bad idea — it guarantees a nap and no dinner. Sounds tempting, but avert.
We strolled through the 1st Arrondissement and the Tuileries Gardens — little did we know, this would be the last moment of relaxation in Paris.

Next stop: Fondue Restaurant

Our Uber arrived to take us to dinner and the car seat base was installed in less than two minutes — we were getting better at it. The improvement was meaningless; our passenger score lowered for the second time that day. Ari is really killing our formerly stellar rating.
Rumour has it the fondue restaurant seats locals on the main floor and tourists in the basement. I assumed having a baby, car seat, stroller and diaper bag would grant us access to the main floor. I was wrong. We were immediately led down a narrow staircase to the dungeon — baby gear and all.  If you desire delicious fondue in an underground sweat lodge, with open flames and no ventilation, this is the place to be. Ari’s temperature rose quickly and her face was completely flushed. The discomfort was getting to her and her fussiness was peaking. We dashed out of the restaurant while the cheese was still bubbling. Had it been just the two of us, we would have stuck it out until the fondue pot was scraped clean.

Day 4 : Lunch at the Eiffel Tower

   “I want this day to end. I want to go home.”
I said this to my husband while I sipped champagne and took in the most breathtaking views of the city. We were mid-lunch at the Michelin star restaurant, Le Jules Verne, inside the Eiffel Tower. We booked three months in advance and were seated by a window overlooking Paris. There is no better way to capture romance in the city of lights, right? Wrong.
There was no romance — just stress, slight hysteria and a little too much wine.
My normally angelic daughter turned into a squirmy, screaming beast. I was self-conscious about Ari’s behaviour and spent the duration of lunch attempting to soothe her. My beautiful little monster wanted to take the stage and I wasn’t going to let her do it, for the sake of the other diners.
Babies and fine dining do not mix — I understand why. Four hundred euros well spent.
Dee and I felt helpless as parents. We left the Eiffel Tower, looked at each other and laughed hysterically at the highly anticipated but disastrous meal. We were losing the little sanity we had left.
We each gulped down double shots of espresso to keep us going and went back to the hotel.
Ari rolled off of the bed and hit her head on the hardwood floor. This day just kept getting better. We had travel medical insurance but concluded she was A-okay and moved on.
Using Ari’s afternoon outburst and recent fall as an indicator for the rest of the evening, dinner plans were cancelled. Instead, we picked up fresh ingredients to make a cheese and charcuterie board. Eating dinner in bed became a common occurrence. Welcome to parenthood.

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Left: Chelsea's little bundle of joy takes a nap. Right: Mom finally gets a chance to enjoy some dumplings.

Day 5: Laundry, Formula Hunting and The Champs-Élysées

Rise and shine, it’s laundry day. Both of us sacrificed suitcase space to accommodate Ari’s items. With another leg left on our trip, doing laundry was a necessity. We packed a laundry bag and ensured our hotel was within walking distance to a laundromat.
Ari’s formula supply was dwindling. I thought I had her food plan down pat — minimize our luggage weight and replenish her food stock in Europe. I checked online to ensure the brand was carried at multiple retailers in Paris. What I did not do was call ahead and ensure it was in stock. Five supermarkets, four pharmacies and three hours later, we finally find it. Dirty, dented and the last tin available, I hold it close to my body and breathe a sigh of relief. “I’m never letting you go, little miracle can.”
Lunch was good ol’ L’as Du Fallafel, our favourite spot for cheap eats in Paris. Messy, delicious and more enjoyable than yesterday’s meal. Seating inside was limited so Ari and her carseat had a prime spot on the floor, shoved underneath our table. Bon Appétit, Ari!
Back-to-back Uber cars arrived without safety anchors or tethers. We give up trying to locate an up-to-date car model, do a second rate installation and hope for the best.

Next stop: The Avenue des Champs-Élysées

Forget about the Arc de Triomphe. This baby is a ticking time bomb and I’m using my valuable minutes at Louis Vuitton. I prioritized retail therapy over monument appreciation and have no regrets.
We make our way down the avenue and are surrounded by high-end shops, clouds of second-hand smoke and nutty drivers who disregard pedestrian safety. The last two were a common theme throughout Paris. I felt like I was flirting with death each time I crossed a busy intersection or was boxed in by smokers.
Our visit to the Champs-Élysées ended after a much needed diaper change and no accessible restroom. We had no choice but to clean our daughter’s dirty diaper on what many call the world’s most beautiful avenue.

Day 6 : CDG to VCE

En route to Venice. It was 9 a.m. and daddy already had Ari’s poop on his pants — this made me smile. Baby girl was a dream and slept for the entire flight.
Water taxis are the most convenient option to get to Venice from the airport. Considering the eight pieces of baggage in tow, taking a private water taxi to our hotel was a justified splurge. Boarding the boat with Ari in the baby carrier was nerve-racking — if I go down, she’s coming with me.
Venice consists of more than 100 islands connected by bridges and separated by canals. Transportation on foot or by boat are the only options.
I decided against using the stroller. It would be a continuous wrestling match with Venice’s stairs, bridges and narrow, windy streets. I cringed as I watched parents with strollers attempt to tackle these obstacles. Keyword: attempt.
The baby carrier was my saviour. I wore it all day, every day.
We asked the hotel to store the stroller and car seat for the duration of the trip. It was important to save the limited floor space in our room.
The rest of the day was spent tending to Ari. Following a non-baby centred itinerary was a dream I abandoned last week.
We walked to a 24-hour pasta takeaway near midnight and ate in bed for the fourth time this trip.

Day 7: The Rialto Bridge and Murano

We walked to the Rialto Bridge, the oldest bridge crossing the Grand Canal. It was crowded and people were shoving — mind the baby! I stumbled and almost fell down the steps twice. I needed to get out of there. We escaped to a nearby patio and shared a mediocre lunch — I was too hungry and tired from walking to care.


Above: All the travelling finally wears Ari down - but she now has the travel bug.

Next stop: Murano

The commuter shoving was strong on the water bus to Murano. We pushed our way off the boat, admired the Murano glass sculptures and trinkets and enjoyed a semi-relaxing dinner on the water. Without a stroller to hold her, we spent the entirety of our meals in Venice constraining Ari from clawing at the plates and glassware.
After the formula hunt in Paris, I developed an obsession with finding the specific brand and was compelled to search every shop we passed. We hit a gold mine at a small pharmacy in Murano, of all places. We leave the island with three boxes of baby formula and zero Murano glass souvenirs. Even though we don’t need the formula, I am very pleased with my find.

Days 8-10: Venice On Repeat

The next three days were a blur. The remaining time in Venice was easy going and the days faded into each other. After the fast pace in Paris, low key was exactly what we needed.
I wandered Venice with what felt like a sack of potatoes weighing me down. I mastered the art of walking while eating various foods over my daughter’s head. I only dropped gelato on her once.
Pizza. Pasta. Gelato. Espresso. Repeat.
We ended our trip with an obligatory gondola ride. Pedestrians got a kick out of seeing the little bambino float beneath the bridges. The constant waving and smiles for Ari made us feel like the main attraction.

Day 11:  VCE to YYZ

For the first time in my life, I was excited to go home while on vacation. I was itching to get Ari back to a familiar environment and back into her routine.
When travelling through the airport, I learned to accept the many people who approached us to give Ari attention, although I winced every time a stranger felt obliged to touch her face or insisted to give her objects that ultimately ended up in her mouth.
The 10-hour flight home was rough. We called the airline in advance to secure an inflight bassinet seat. I had one hour of hands-free time while Ari slept. Although we didn’t use the bassinet for it’s intended purpose, it was helpful to use for storage.  
Ari was awake for most of the afternoon flight home. She required constant attention and smiled at every stranger who walked by hoping to initiate a game of peek-a-boo.  
The few times I successfully soothed Ari to sleep, passengers came by and couldn’t help themselves from squeezing her hands and feet or pinching her cheeks. This drove me insane. Squeeze me. Pinch me. Hit me. I don’t care, just don’t dare wake the baby!
The three of us arrive in Toronto — sleep-deprived but we’re already planning for our next family adventure.


When is the best time to travel with a baby? I spoke to fellow parents and scoured the internet.  I have concluded: There is no best time. Each stage is an entirely different experience and comes with its unique set of benefits and challenges. Whether your child is a dormant newborn, squirmy infant or a toddler walking with confidence, if you want to travel, GO!
Was my daughter the travel anchor I thought she would be?
With that said, we adapted and had an amazing vacation. Travelling with hiccups along the way is better than avoiding it altogether.  It can be taxing, but every time Ari flashed her gummy, little smile, all frustrations faded. No matter how much you prepare and plan, children are unpredictable. As parents, we have to roll with the punches.  
We have two family vacations planned for next year and I intend to add more.

1 Select departure times that coincide with your baby’s sleep schedule. A sleeping baby is always better than an awakened baby on the plane.

2 Request a bassinet seat as soon as you book your ticket. They are located in the exit row, have more legroom and are suitable for babies up to 20 pounds. You will have to ask the flight attendant to fasten the bassinet to the wall after takeoff.

3 Feed your baby or give them a pacifier during takeoff and landing. The sucking motion relieves ear discomfort from the air pressure changes.

4 Pack an extra outfit in the carry-on for both you and your baby. Sitting in a soiled outfit will be a nightmare for you, your baby and everyone around you.

5 Keep changing pads on hand. Locating changing stations in public bathrooms is rare. We had to change one too many diapers outdoors, in our lap or on any accessible flat surface. If the diaper is a messy one, you will be grateful for the changing pad.

6 Use a diaper backpack instead of a shoulder tote. Carrying a tote bag on one shoulder while holding your baby at the same time is a balancing act. The backpack is more organized, versatile and best of all, out of the way.  I was hesitant to switch to a backpack but after one day of use, I’m never going back.

7 Keep the itinerary to one major activity per day and give yourself extra time. If possible, add another day. Whether it’s a temper tantrum or bout of sickness, there will be unexpected circumstances to account for. Allot time to make up for cancellations.


1 Lillebaby Complete Airflow Baby Carrier: Wear your baby. I used my carrier all day, every day. It is easier to get around and leaves both hands free. The carrier I used has great back support — I wore it for up to 10 hours a day and experienced minimal discomfort compared to other brands.

2 Playtex Baby Nurser Bottles with Drop-In Liners: If your baby bottle feeds, you know how tedious hand washing all of the parts can be. Transition them to a bottle that uses disposable liners and eliminate half of the work when washing.

3 Dr. Brown’s Microwave Steam Sterilizer Bags: Dirty bottle parts sat in our diaper bag for up to 12 hours at room temperature. Sometimes I felt soap and water were not enough to do the job. I wanted the extra security of sterilization. The microwaveable steam bags are compact, easy to use and perfect for travelling.

Stay tuned.


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