no more bottled water.

I’m a rule follower. When someone of authority tells me to do something, I do it. And when I break rules or recommendations, I do so only with intense anxiousness.

Before we left for Costa Rica, I called my doctor’s travel clinic to talk about our trip. We had all the necessary vaccinations, but the lady I spoke with emphasized that we should not drink the tap water there. I asked a few follow up questions, because what I’d read had made me think the tap water was safe in Costa Rica, but this woman insisted there were serious health risks.

DSC02451^^costa rica sunset. february 2014^^

I hate buying water. I hate creating unnecessary waste. Both of these principles are hard to stick to when you’re traveling in a place without potable water. I’ve spent a good deal of time in China, and it’s actually not hard there, because boiled water is readily available. When I studied abroad in Harbin in 2003, I’d fill my Nalgene with boiled water and stick it out on the windowsill to cool off. Sure, bottled water was cheap. But think of all the people in China. If they’re all drinking water from bottles, imagine how many plastic bottles that is. Where do they all go?

ForbidCityLady^^woman sweeping up trash at the forbidden city in beijing. taken by my mom when visiting me in december 2003.^^

But back to Costa Rica. While there, we bought bottled water. 6L jugs of it usually, so only 4 or 5 were needed to get us through the 10 days. But still, those bottles made my heart hurt. Especially when an expat in line at the supermarket lectured me about how Costa Rica’s drinking water was totally safe. I know, lady, you’re preaching to the choir. But I didn’t want to risk it with Willa, and getting sick was not in our vacation plans. I didn’t want to go against what my doctor had advised.

DSC02141^^selvatura park. monteverde, costa rica. february 2014.^^

But during our trip, I vowed I’d do something different the next time. Once home, I went through my bookmarks and favorited tweets, and found two fantastic organizations I’d previously heard about: Ban the Bottle, and Travelers Against Plastic. I’ve been following Ban the Bottle for a few years since I support their mission of: “eliminating plastic bottles in schools, offices and public areas…[so] we can eliminate unneeded waste in landfills.” Travelers Against Plastic has a different, but potentially even more important slant. Their mission is to “educate global travelers about the harmful impacts of plastic water bottles usage and encourage travelers to be prepared to clean their own drinking water.”

DSC06181^^GUILTY! penang, malaysia. july 2011.^^

On their resources page, they recommend a few methods: a SteriPEN, which is likely familiar to those who go camping, as well as old fashioned iodine tablets. We used to use those when I went to summer camp, and the water always had an odd taste. But apparently they’re more advanced now and you can get neutralizing tablets which elimiate it.

As someone who cares a lot about these types of issues, I am mad at myself for not thinking more about this before our trip. It would have been so easy to buy a $50 SteriPEN or pack a few iodine tablets which are even cheaper! But even I didn’t think of it. The only way to make change is to educate people. I’m glad I’ve been thinking about it lately. I hope you, too, will think twice before buying a bottle of water?

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costa rica :: what we packed

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Before we left for Costa Rica, I spent a lot of time thinking about what to pack. A lot. I wanted to make sure we had everything we’d need. But I didn’t want to overpack. It can be a hard balance to strike. Right?

We had to take a travel crib for Willa, so I decided it made the most sense to take one big suitcase for the three of us. I have an old hardshell Samsonite suitcase that is always overweight if you fill it with clothes, but since the travel crib takes up half of it and only weighs 7 pounds, you can fill the rest of the space and still sneak in under the weight limit.

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willa’s clothes:
4 dresses
3 short-sleeved onesies
3 t-shirts
1 long-sleeved shirt
3 pairs leggings
1 pair shorts
1 sweater
1 light cardigan
1 full-piece pjs
1 sunhat
2 bathing suits
1 swim diaper
1 sunglasses
1 pair sandals
1 pair Crocs
1 pair running shoes

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my clothes:
2 maxi dresses
1 short dress
1 pair lightweight pants*
1 pair cropped legging
2 pairs shorts
2 t-shirts
1 lightweight blouse
1 sweatshirt
1 athletic t-shirt
4 tank tops
2 bikinis
1 sports bra
1 regular bra
2 pairs socks
running shoes
flip flops
hat
sunglasses

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non-clothing items:
2 small bags of toiletries
5 Clif bars
5 Lärabars
powdered goat milk
2 sippy cups
2 water bottles
travel highchair
canvas tote (for beach, groceries etc.)
1 small bag of toys
3 storybooks
AquaDoodle
2 small notebooks + crayons
1 book each for dan and me
iPad
camera
baby carrier
carseat
travel crib

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I didn’t include a list of what Dan packed, but it he brought less than I did. Although men’s clothes take up more room.

After our 10 days away, I was pretty pleased with how the packing worked out. Overall, we brought just the right amount of stuff. I washed a few things in the sink mid-trip, but not much. Mostly just stuffed the sand-filled clothes in bags at the end of the trip. (Oh yes, bags! I pack everything in gallon-sized zip-lock bags. You have to roll them to save space. Willa likes to join in and roll anything she can get her hands on. It’s not always that helpful but it’s so darn cute.)

There were, however, a few things I wish I’d packed:
another beach cover up (that sun was hot!)
dish soap
cutlery + travel knife

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*When I go on a long trip to a warm-weather place, I like to bring a pair of “vacation pants.” Really this started when I was in Thailand and bought way too many pairs of what I call “hammer pants” but I believe are actually called harem pants. Or maybe it’s fisherman pants? Whatever their name is, I’m sure it’s inappropriate. But they’re absurdly comfortable, and you should get yourself a pair. On this trip, I brought a slightly more mainstream pair from Target (but bought via thredUP). Vacation pants can come in many forms, they just make you feel relaxed. You know, like you’re on vacation.

things i learned in costa rica

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We just got back from Costa Rica! (Well, we got back Saturday, but I picked up a cold somewhere along the way, and Bryna got sick at the dog-boarding place, so it took a few days to get back into the swing of things.) It was a long-planned adventure for us, and a lot of firsts: Our first international family vacation. Our first big trip with a toddler. Our first trip to Central America. The first time we’d been on a beach vacation in a long while. Our first time relying primarily on a rental car for transportation in another country.

We flew in and out of San Jose, and spent the first and last nights of the trip at the Holiday Inn Express by the airport to make arrival and departure easy. From San Jose, we drove to Monteverde for two nights, and then spent six nights at Playa Negra in Guanacaste, just south of popular Tamarindo.

There’s lots I want to write about the trip, and many pictures to sort through, but while they’re fresh in my mind I want to share a few things I learned on our first international family vacation. These won’t apply to everyone, but they’re thoughts I want to remember and keep in mind for our next big trip!

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It’s worth it.
Despite the challenges of traveling with a toddler (and there definitely are challenges!), it’s totally worth it. The ups and downs and the memories you make will bring you all closer together.

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Even if your “worst case scenario” comes true, everything’ll still be fine.
Our 6-hour flight to Costa Rica left at 4pm, and Willa had had an early nap. I’d told friends before we left that, “worst case scenario,” if she didn’t sleep the whole flight, we’d arrive at 9pm Denver time. Sure enough, she didn’t sleep the whole flight. And she stayed awake until 11:30pm Denver time. But we all made it through in one piece. Everything carried on as planned.

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Kids can be better travelers than adults.
We were a bit worried about how Willa would do during our three 4-hour drives. She did great, and on one drive, we dubbed her “MVP,” because she was happy and content the whole drive, whereas Dan and I got a bit crabby because we needed a bathroom and were hungry etc. etc. And, although this trip was probably an exception, usually Willa sleeps much better than we do while we’re traveling!

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You might want to splurge on A/C, but it’ll be okay if you don’t.
It was a little tricky figuring out how to get Willa to nap. At her usual naptime, 12ish, our bungalow at the beach was extremely hot. My initial response was to curse myself for not paying the additional money to rent a bungalow with air conditioning. But really, all we had to do was move her nap a little earlier. If she napped around 11, it wasn’t yet that hot in the room. This worked well, too, because she woke up at 5:30 or 6 most of the week (ugh!) since it gets light so much earlier there. We also took her for late afternoon walks in the carrier, which gave her a chance to catch a few more minutes of sleep if she needed it. But still, when you have little ones and need to be in your room midday, it could be a good option to have A/C.

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Carefully selected toys are key.
You can’t take many toys on a trip. (Well, I guess you could, but that would just be silly. And we all know I strive to pack light.) So you have to make sure you pick ones that serve many purposes. The main players for us this trip were stacking cups, an AquaDoodle, and a Sesame Street coloring book.

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I really like breakfast.
The places we stayed for the first three nights had breakfast included. I really like rolling out of bed and having coffee and breakfast treats available at my fingertips. At the beach we bought groceries and had breakfast on our porch each morning. That was also nice, but not the same.

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Give things time.
When I travel, I sometimes feel a lot of pressure to be having an “amazing time” every single moment. But for me, it takes time to settle in to a new place and to a new schedule. Even when all you’re doing is relaxing on the beach, it might take some time to figure everything out. Just let it happen. It will.

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thoughts on packing light + useful travel items for little kids

I’ve been thinking about packing a lot lately. You know, the stuff you have to take with you when you go places. Oh, the stuff. But the places! I love the places.

DSC05746^^lamma island, hong kong. july 2011.^^

Back in the days before you had to pay to check luggage, I was a serious overpacker. I’d just throw everything I might need into a suitcase and then rejoice once I’d left it in the hands of the airlines so I could walk lightly to my gate.

But a few years back, when the fee for luggage was firmly in place, I made a decision: I would become a light packer. It was right before a week-long trip to Europe, and Dan and I were determined to take only carry-ons for the trip. At the time, it seemed impossible. How on earth could we go to a wedding in France and take just a carry-on suitcase!? But I was both fed-up with paying fees to check luggage and also fed-up with lugging my luggage around. It seemed like having so many belongings was getting in my way of enjoying the destinations to which I traveled.

DSC02466^^first trip as a light packer! at seatac airport heading to switzerland, france, and italy. july 2010^^

We all know it’s hard to change. But I made the change from over-packer to light packer very well. All it really took was buying the best carry-on suitcase ever as well as a great lightweight hiking backpack.

DSC05627^^off to southeast asia for three weeks in july 2011^^

For at least 3 years, I didn’t pay any luggage fees. Not a one. And then I had a baby.

Everyone tells you that when you have kids you’re going to little by little acquire more and more stuff. As much as I’ve resisted this, it’s still happened to some extent. I firmly believe that babies and kids don’t need a lot of stuff. They need to be clothed and fed and loved and entertained, but just like with adults, having more things does not result in a happier baby. And yet, when we went to California last weekend, it felt like we had so much stuff. Two carry-on bags, two “personal items,” a heavy carseat, and a 20-some pound toddler in a carrier.

DSC01024^^en route to boston. decemeber 2013.^^

Overall, I think I’ve been able to maintain my status as a light packer. We travel with more than we used to, but a lot less than many people! It’s the carseat that really weighs you down. There’s no getting around it. It’s the law. Safety first. It’s especially hard to get around without one in the US, where public transportation is often not that convenient. But when we go to Europe someday, I will not be taking a carseat, that’s for sure! You can also rent them at your destination, but once you’ve shelled out $200+ for one at home, do you really want to spend more money?

Thankfully, they do make great items for traveling with little kids. I’m convinced a main component of parenting is the never-ending process of deciding which items fit your lifestyle best. Because there are so many options out there! And they’re all pretty expensive! The most useful things we’ve found so far are:

phil&teds Traveller Crib 
I wanted this crib when I was pregnant, but decided not to get it because of the high price tag. Instead, we got a Pack-n-Play. Once we were traveling places by plane and needed a crib, I found a used one on eBay for around $120. I’m so glad we have it, since it’s pretty much the smallest option out there (comparable to the Baby Bjorn model). But it still takes up a good amount of room. It won’t fit in a carry-on, and annoyingly airlines don’t gaurentee they’ll check it for free (as they do with strollers and carseats), so you pretty much have to check a bag if you’re taking it with you. But it’s still very convenient. Although, I am also glad we have the Pack-n-Play. It was great for the first 6 months when Willa was sleeping in our room. It just wasn’t great for travel. It’s big and doesn’t have a handle.

Diono Radian convertible carseat
We just got this carseat for Christmas since it was clear that W was almost too big for her infant seat. I picked this one because it’s the only foldable carseat on the market, and it is also the narrowest. Additionally, you can keep your child rear-facing up to 45lbs. in this seat (most are 40lbs.) and it’s also a seat you can use from birth to 120lbs. Plus it’s FAA approved so you can use it for flying.

totseat
I just bought this recently, and am really excited about it. At home we use a phil&teds portable chair, and while it’s come in handy at a lot of restaurants, it’s a bit big to carry if you want to pack light, and it’s also not compatible with some tables. I’m a big believer in kids eating at the table, and Willa is still at an age where she needs to be strapped in (I know that’s debatable, but that’s my opinion!).

Beco / ergo carrier
I love both these carriers. The Beco was ideal when W was little, but now as toddler I find the Ergo to be more convenient. But either way, the carrier is the way to go. I do not believe in traveling with a stroller. Too big! Too much!

tegu blocks travel set
I got these blocks from a dear friend when Willa was born. They’re my favorite toy to bring along on trips, and people are always asking about them. The magnets in the blocks not only make them fun to play with, but stick to any metal structure. This comes in handy on planes and in restaurants! I recently took them to a Super Bowl party, and I totally lost it when one block went missing. (Perhaps I am too consumed by things?) Not to worry though, the party host found it. Phew.

IMAGE_E869A33C-1B32-4213-8114-B7B44D1D814C^^trip home to new york. may 2013.^^

Despite these useful items, my back and shoulders are still always sore on a trip…perhaps I should just accept it, but I’m going to keep striving to be the lightest packer possible! And if you have thoughts or tips, please share!