Two cross-country trips during Stella’s first year brought hard-won lessons about making the airline system and the Manhattan tourist scene work for parents with small children.

Stella flew on her first airplane when she was only three months old. Rebeca and husband Roger, an attorney, felt like they had things pretty much under control. Rebeca was nursing, so feeding wasn’t a problem. She paid for an airline seat for Stella’s carseat, a practice she recommends to all traveling moms. “If there is an emergency landing. I want to know that she is strapped in.” She chose a Snap N Go because of its ease and convenience –“The carseat snaps into the bottom stroller. And the bottom stroller is lightweight and folds up neatly for trunk storage.”

Knowing what to pack was a bit of a challenge. Unlike their sunny Southern California home, New York was freezing cold and they were planning on doing a lot of walking on Manhattan’s busy streets. They brought along a bunting and plastic stroller shield to keep the wind off. “The shield and the Snap N Go were the smartest things we brought for the trip.” They shipped some of Stella’s favorite toys to their NY destination to avoid having to carry too much luggage.

On the flight, Rebeca used Ear Planes (corkscrew-shaped ear plugs) to help Stella deal with the loss of air pressure. With the earplugs and her pacifier stuck in her mouth, Rebeca admits Stella looked like something out of “Star Trek,” but she was happy. And on an airplane, a happy baby makes for happy parents — and happier passengers in the surrounding seats.

Once they arrived in New York City, Rebeca and Roger created their own sleekly efficient teamwork system. Rebeca would flag a cab, while Roger pulled the carseat out of the stroller. While he buckled Stella in the cab, Rebeca folded the stroller and placed it in the front seat (not all NY cabs have functioning trunks). She and Roger worked with such speed that they never once tested the notoriously short patience of their NY cabbies.

That was the good trip.

The next time they traveled, Stella was 8 months old, more active and more vocal. And Rebeca was traveling without her husband. Stella was a very large baby, and had outgrown her previous seat. Many of her friends recommended a stroller that turns into a car seat, but Rebeca saw that it was difficult to use alone. “Besides that, I didn’t want to add to my graveyard of strollers,” she says.

The problems began on her US Airways flight to New York. With exquisite timing, Stella pooped right as Rebeca was settling in her seat prior to takeoff. “No one wants to sit next to a smelly diaper,” Rebeca thought, so she asked the flight attendant where she could change the baby. That’s when she learned the bad news: There were no changing tables in the bathrooms. The flight attendant suggested changing Stella on the top of the closed toilet seat cover, but Rebeca feared that Stella would fall off and get hurt. So instead, she began changing her on the floor by the bathroom door. The flight attendants, upset by her actions, rudely told her that they had to serve food there. Rebeca replied, “I didn’t know you served food on the floor,” and finished the job.

On ground, Rebeca faced a grueling 6-hour drive to Maryland alone with Stella. They hit traffic on the Maryland Beltway and Stella went ballistic. Rebeca would stop the car and comfort her whenever she could but it was definitely a clenched-tooth experience.

After their vacation, driving back to the airport, Stella threw up. Rebeca took her to the airport bathroom to change her, only to find that the ever-elusive changing station had been blocked by the cleaning woman’s cart. Rebeca moved the cart so that she could get in– whereupon the woman angrily pushed it right back, thus blocking Rebeca in. “It’s surprising how rude people can be to you when you’re traveling with children.”

When Rebeca got to check-in, the airline personnel informed her that the carseat would be counted as a carry-on even though Rebeca had paid for Stella to have her own seat. It was only after she insisted that she and Stella were entitled to the additional carry-on because they had, in fact, paid for an extra seat, that the airline backed down.

The flight continued much the same way. Stella was having a good time, laughing and giggling in her car seat. Rebeca noticed that a couple next to her were giving Stella dirty looks. “What is your problem?” she asked. They looked appalled. Another woman across the aisle kept glaring at her and then other passengers began making rude comments about Stella. Rebeca decided the best tactic would be to glare back at them until they got backed down, which they did.

Through all of her traveling challenges, Rebeca kept her cool. Although she believes that travel won’t become more child-friendly until mothers become more assertive about receiving fair treatment on airlines. Her suggestion is to “act like you know what you’re doing. Don’t be at their mercy.” It seems that when traveling with kids, there’s no middle ground. It’s either a great trip or a hellish one. However, with a little foresight, planning, the right gear and a lot of luck, you might be spared the latter.

Featured Traveling Mom, By Karen Kushell
on-board with Sam suffering from diarrhea and vomiting.

Though Karen was in the process of weaning Sam, he could only keep down breastmilk so she had to begin nursing him full-time again. Another kid on the ship came down with the same thing, got dangerously dehydrated, had to disembark at the first port and was flown to a hospital.

How She Dealt With It:
“I’m pretty unflappable. Luckily I had requested additional suppositories and antibiotics [for Sam] from my pediatrician before I left home, so I didn’t need to use the ship’s doctor, who wasn’t a pediatrician.”

Best Thing About Trip:
“The meals. They gave the kids whatever they wanted. The tolerance level for kids is real high on a family cruise. They also had a great program for kids over the age of three. The Kids Klub kids roam in packs around the ship. They keep them constantly busy. Unfortunately, Sam was too young to take part. But he loved watching the musical shows the crew performed at night.”

Worst Thing About Trip (Besides Rotovirus):
“The cribs are too large for the rooms. Or, at least make the cribs easier to fold up because the rooms are so small. Also, the cruise flights tend to be so overbooked it’s not likely you’ll get one of the half-priced seats they reserve for kids under 2 unless you call early when you book your cruise.”

What She Couldn’t Do Without:
The Sit and Stroll stroller by Safe Line. A combination car seat/stroller/high chair. “Readjusting it [as the child grows] is a big pain. But once you’ve adjusted it, it’s great for buses with no car seats. It also fits into airline seats.”

Advice To Other Traveling Moms:
“Forget those memory books! Get those damn pictures in an album as soon as you get home. Sam just loves looking at those pictures again and again.”

Would She Do It Again?
“Honestly, no. These kinds of cruises are hard when you have toddlers. The activities are mainly geared toward the older kids and there wasn’t a babysitter that I knew of. Luckily I had a lot of extra hands with my family. But it definitely wasn’t the greatest trip.”