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Getting back in the swing of traveling comes with its own learning after over a year of staying close to home. But if you’ve had a baby in the last two years or are a parent to young child, your vacation prep is on a whole different level. To help navigate the do’s and don’ts of summer family travel this year—from the questions to ask your Airbnb host ahead of booking to what destinations make for great family-friendly vacations—we’ve tapped two supertravelers and new moms, Traveler‘s Erin Florio and journalist Oneika Raymond, for this week’s special Women Who Travel episode, presented by Bradenton, Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key.
Thanks to Oneika and Erin for joining us and thanks, as always, to Brett Fuchs for engineering and mixing this episode. As a reminder, you can listen to new episodes of Women Who Travel on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, every Wednesday.
Read a full transcription below.
Lale Arikoglu: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Women Who Travel, a podcast from Condé Nast Traveler. I’m Lale Arikoglu and with me, as always, is my co-host Meredith Carey.
Meredith Carey: Hello.
LA: This week we’re chatting with two new moms who you’ve heard on the podcast before, about the tips and tricks they’re using to travel with their young kids this summer. We’re joined by TV host and journalist, Oneika Raymond, and Traveler’s travel news director, Erin Florio. Thanks so much for making the time to chat with us.
Oneika Raymond: Thanks for having me.
Erin Florio: Pleasure.
MC: So Oneika, you had your daughter Kira not long before the pandemic began, and Erin, your son Leo was born in the middle of the pandemic. Unlike a lot of other people right now, your return to travel isn’t a return to the normal way you were traveling before the pandemic, since you’re involving someone new in your planning. How has the return to travel been for both of you? What has that experience been like?
EF: Well, for me, I can say it’s been very slow and very considered in ways that it wasn’t before the pandemic, and that’s both because I am a new mother and also because the world is a different place to travel these days. So I find the way that I’m making decisions has so many more factors going into it and I’m making these travel-based decisions that surprise me, even. I am choosing to stay closer to home and that is the opposite of how Erin of 2019 and before would have traveled. And there’s just so many things to go into it. So I know that, for me, has been a big difference. It’s slower and far more considered.
OR: Absolutely. I have to echo what Erin said. There’s a lot more preparation going into traveling these days. Once upon a time, I could book a ticket and be on a plane and arrive at my destination without any lodging. But now with a baby, I’m like, okay, I need to call to get her attached to our reservation to ensure that we’re sitting together on the plane. I have to, or rather my husband because he’s more of a planner than I am, but he has to call ahead and ensure that there’s a pack ‘n play in the room when we’re choosing accommodation. For example, currently we’re in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, and it has been a real learning experience because we got this really beautiful Airbnb only to discover that it’s not child-proofed—at all. So all of these cute little accoutrements that are in the apartment, you know light fixtures, all these different things, we’ve had to move around and reconfigure because my daughter, who is a very active 17-month-old, is grabbing everything and breaking everything. So there’s certain things like that that we’ve had to adjust I guess.
We’ve had to adjust our travel style, and we travel with a lot more things. I’ve always prided myself on being a carry-on only traveler. And I’m still traveling with only carry-on, but oh my goodness, I don’t have anything for myself. Everything is basically for the baby, from her food, to her toys, to diapers, all of these different things that were not part of my packing list before are essential now.
LA: You know, it sounds like the two of you, pre-pandemic, were quite spontaneous, fly-by-the-seat of your pants types of travelers. Just on a personal level, has it been hard to make those adjustments and kind of wrestle with the fact that travel for you is different now?
OR: Yeah. I’ll go first. Yes, yes, and yes. And don’t let anybody tell you differently. I mean, everybody’s experience will be different, I guess. People will experience different things. But one thing I try to do is I try to be really honest about the experience and yeah, sometimes I’ve lamented the fact that I can’t travel the way I used to. I was actually just in Tulum earlier today and there were a couple of bars and restaurants that I had pinpointed previously to getting there that I wanted to visit. And we go up to the door of one of them and they’re like, no kids allowed. So we couldn’t enter. And once upon a time, when I used to club hop and bar hop and be on the scene, that was unfathomable. And now I’m like, “Okay, I need to be home by 7:00 p.m. because my daughter needs to be put to bed,” or there needs to be a sizable break in the middle of the day so I can put her down for a nap because if I don’t put her down for a nap, it’s going to be horrible for everybody involved. And so I just have to move differently. But I love seeing the world through her eyes now. So there are certain things that I would not have done before, activities that I would not have done or enjoyed before, that now I’m doing with her and I’m having the best time just seeing her discover.
EF: Yeah, I mean I have to agree with that. Everything about how you might’ve done something in the past kind of has to be different. I was very similar. I mean, for me, when I was going to a destination, it didn’t matter what the destination was, but the bars and the restaurants were always sort of the most important part. And now it’s like, “Well, I probably won’t make it,” and that’s okay because it even allows me… I haven’t gone to Paris with my child, but it allows me hypothetically, if I were to go to Paris with him, to see it in a different way because I would be prioritizing different things that I wouldn’t have allowed myself to prioritize in the past.
We have not done a lot of city travel. We’ve done a little bit of city travel with him. We’ve done all domestic [travel]. But I can relate this even to the way I’m experiencing New York City right now, which is the place that I live, but it’s reopening and I’m for the first time experiencing the city as a mother and with a child. And you do have to plan very differently. When you’re going out in the day and you’re exploring and you’re walking, you need to factor in and anticipate what his schedule is going to be, and make sure that you plot your course appropriately so that you do have a place where you can sit for an hour, so that you do have a place where you can feed. And these were things that you completely take for granted before and while that is me in New York, that could be me in any city as a traveler. So you do have to plan very, very differently.
OR: Yeah. I agree wholeheartedly. I have traveled internationally with my daughter. We’ve traveled to Germany, we’ve traveled to Greece, we’ve been to Aruba, we’re currently in Mexico, and I echo Erin’s sentiments once again. There are so many things to consider even traveling to Europe and thinking to myself, “Oh, I’m going to walk from point A to point B,” because that’s one of the things I love to do in European cities. They’re so gorgeous. But having to consider the climate, the temperature, having to consider the timing, the length, the distance. How am I going to carry a stroller or push a stroller over cobblestone streets? In fact, I’m going to have to use the baby carrier, but now my daughter is 25 pounds and I can’t comfortably carry her on my body. So if my husband’s not with me, then we’re going to have to use a stroller and we’re going to have to move really differently. Or even getting into a car share service, an Uber, again, if you don’t have a car seat with you, well you can’t get into a car safely with the child.
Changing tables! My daughter is still in diapers. We were just in Tulum earlier on and we weren’t able to change her in the restaurant because they did not have an area to do so in the restroom. So I had to change her in the trunk of the car. These are just realities, everyday realities that parents face that if you’re not a parent, if you’re not traveling with small children, in particular, you would just never consider.
MC: You know, you’re both talking about having to plan so much more and I think right now, during this time when travel is complicated for a person traveling on their own who doesn’t have to worry about anyone else, it’s already complicated. There’s a lot of extra planning that goes into it. And as we’re returning to travel, vaccinations and vaccination status is coming into play as to where and how we’re traveling. You both are in a unique situation in that both your kids are too young to get a COVID vaccine at the moment. How is that playing into how you’re planning your travel and how has that impacted how you guys are traveling right now?
EF: We haven’t made any international trips. It’s not for a lack of wanting, and frankly, it’s not for lack of needing. Like so many other families, we have family overseas and we have family that haven’t met my son yet and letting them meet my son is obviously a priority. Now, I am fully vaccinated and my partner is fully vaccinated. I am fairly comfortable moving about the world as it is now. One thing I do have to consider is the fact that my son obviously can’t be vaccinated and there are a lot of people in this world who still aren’t and there is still a risk of infection, even if it’s small. So we have been wanting to go to Italy, which is where we have family. It’s been a trip that has become this can that we’ve been kicking down the road. In March, we thought it would be okay to go in May. In May, we thought it would be okay to go in July. Now our sights are set for September. And one of the reasons that we keep kicking it is not because we are worried about ourselves, it’s because Italy is not a country that has the same vaccination rollout that we have had. And we are also very aware that when you bring a new child to a place that you have a personal connection to, all of the relatives come, all of the friends come out, everyone’s gathering. And you can’t stop that. And we don’t want to put ourselves in a situation where we have to control what should be a really happy experience because we’re worried about making people gather who aren’t vaccinated for our benefit. So, that has prevented us from taking very necessary overseas trips. And it’s also informed the way we’re traveling domestically. Our domestic travels for the summer are fairly rural and fairly simple and fairly close to home.
And in part, that is because I don’t know how comfortable I’m going to feel in anywhere that’s too crowded with him in a place that I am not familiar with. We did travel quite a bit in January and February around the U.S. and what I learned from that experience is even right now, when I’m planning my trips for summer, even though the U.S. is in a much safer spot than it was in January, there are things I want to avoid. I want to avoid unnecessary crowds. I want to avoid putting myself and my family in a place where I don’t know that I agree with their level of protection. So we’re staying upstate, we’re going to islands, and we’re keeping it fairly crowd-free, and that includes going to airports.
MC: Oneika, what has been your planning process because I know you guys have been traveling internationally, which again, comes with testing for you guys and all sorts of other stuff in the mix?
OR: Absolutely. So yeah, I mean, my husband is fully vaccinated. I’m fully vaccinated, also. And last year, for example, in the beginning, when we were still kind of in the throws of COVID, but seeing light at the end of the tunnel I suppose, we were traveling domestically and we deliberately chose spots where we’d be able to socially distance. So we road tripped through Utah, Arizona, and Nevada. We did things that would allow us to be outside and away from other people, and so that was very handy. Now, when we had traveled to Germany—my husband is a German national—so we traveled to Germany and we stayed there for a month and then tagged the side trip onto Greece. Germany was doing far better with the pandemic than the U.S. was and so I felt comfortable at the time.
And that’s the thing with traveling right now, things change so quickly that it is really incumbent upon you to be aware of what is happening and what is going on and consult various sources in order to inform yourself so that you know what’s going on and you can prepare accordingly. Now, I think we’ve relaxed a bit in terms of selecting destinations or in terms of which travels we will consider, or which travels we will do, given the fact that COVID is around, it’s probably here to stay, but we’re not in such dire straits anymore, at least in certain parts of the world. We’re here in Mexico and we’re particularly in the Quintana Roo, which is not doing that well to be quite honest with you with regards to cases. They have rising case levels. However, once again, we’re in a position to social distance. We are staying near the beach. We don’t know anyone here, so my daughter is not coming within six feet of anybody to be quite honest with you. But yeah, I’m absolutely feeling way more comfortable than previously about traveling.
EF: Yeah. What’s been important throughout this whole pandemic and is still important now is safety is super subjective and what one person’s comfortable with for them and for their family is very different from somebody else. So it’s important that everyone remembers just to do what they feel comfortable with and what makes sense and that they, like, can travel and exist within the boundaries they feel safe with their family. I mean, listening to Oneika’s travels versus mine, her travels sound amazing. Her and her family were far more willing to probably go places that I might not have felt comfortable with and I don’t think either is right, neither is wrong, it was just a matter of personal choice, so it’s really important to remember that too.
OR: Yeah and to add to that, I think one of the things I’ve been saying since the pandemic has started is that safety is in actions and not necessarily in destinations. So when we were in the thick of the pandemic last March, April, May, I mean, even up to this past January—I live in a high-rise condo building in New York City. I did not feel comfortable taking the elevator in my own building. So in December and January, we went to Florida and we booked a place in Miami Beach. We were in a low-rise apartment building and we booked a month there and we were two blocks away, four blocks away, from the beach, and we basically didn’t come in contact with anybody that whole month we were there.
LA: Looking ahead to summer and staying on the subject of Florida for a second because Erin, I know you spent some time there earlier in the year, and quite frankly, a beach in Florida sounds incredibly appealing to me right now and also sounds primed for social distancing, especially as more of us are vaccinated and we’re feeling safer being out in the outdoors or near people again. What do you guys have planned for summer? Are you going to be back on the beaches?
EF: So to your Florida point, yeah I’ve spent a lot of time on the Gulf Coast of Florida, which I think is a fantastic place, especially for right now. Like you said, Lale, having fun outside and social distancing, but not even realizing that you’re socially distancing, which is so key. It’s so nice to go to those places where it’s organic, these things that we’re being forced to do just sort of present themselves and happen naturally. I probably won’t be going back until September or October. But beach, I mean, Lale and Meredith, you both know me. If I could have it my way I would spend every day on the beach, but you know there’s another hiccup in parenting, having a new baby. I brought my baby to the beach. I was so excited because if he likes the beach, then it means that we can go to the beach because my partner does not like the beach and all I ever want to do is be at the beach. It didn’t go so great. It was hard. Oneika, I’m curious to know your experiences, but between the sand and the wind and the umbrellas and the gear, I thought the beach was very difficult for the first time as a parent.
That being said, we’ve booked ourselves to go to Nantucket for a week. I plan to be on the beach, but we booked a place like Nantucket because there’s so many things to do off the beach as well and it’s all inherently outside. It’s very easy to get to. There’s a capacity—it’s an island quite far off the coast. It’s not going to be slammed with so many people, even though I know it will be crowded in summer. So we picked that because there’s a lot of different things we can do and it feels very relaxed and it feels very different from New York City and we sort of need that right now.
But I will say in our planning, we’re staying at hotels, and we’ve stayed both at hotels and at Airbnbs with our baby, and there were pluses and minuses to both probably a little bit. But we have called in advance to make sure—Oneika brought up the pack ‘n play—to see if they have pack ‘n plays available so that we don’t have to lug ours on the ferry and in the car and every other way that we’re going to get there.
Also important was to call about room configurations because the worst thing is to get into a room and then it’s far too snug for that pack and play to comfortably be set up. You need some floor space in your hotel room, so that’s another key question to ask if you’re planning on staying in a hotel, that’s when we’ve asked. And finally for me, I don’t know if this is the same for you Oneika, but I love a bath anyway, but now it is imperative that I have a bathtub where I stay because I want to bathe my child. I can bring him in the shower, but bath time is fun and he likes it and we like it, so actually calling in advance and securing a room with a bathtub—if they offer bathtubs—is also key.
LA: Erin, it just shows what a different place my brain is at, but I was like, “Oh, Erin does… She does deserve a bath after a long, hard day with her child.”
EF: I mean, trust me, I want the bathtub because I want my glass of wine in the bath while he’s falling asleep, but really it’s because he needs to bathe in the bathtub.
LA: I was like, “Oh yeah, no, that does make more sense.”
MC: Oneika, what are your summer plans thus far?
OR: Yeah, so I’m currently in Mexico, so I’ll be here for another week or so and then we are road tripping. We’re hitting the road. We’re flying to Denver and then road tripping Colorado and New Mexico. And I find that these trips lend themselves well to traveling with a baby just because, again, we’re experiencing the great outdoors. We can go at our own pace. We have our own car. We can stop, eat, do all of the things we need to do at her rhythm and not necessarily at our rhythm. And then, as a family, our preference is to stay in Airbnbs or at least to get a one-bedroom suite when we have a hotel because the baby goes to bed early. So, if she’s going to bed at 7:30 p.m., I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to go to bed at 7:30 p.m. and so it’s nice to have a room that we can put her into and have a separate area so she can sleep and nap and do all the things she needs to do and then our lives can continue and we can do all the things we need to do while she’s resting. Bathtubs are absolutely imperative. We arrived at our Airbnb here in Mexico and realized that there was not a bathtub, so bath time has been a little bit hairy.
EF: You’ve got to ask. You’ve got to ask, I’ve learned. Now, that’s one of those things that I have to ask about before I book.
OR: Yeah. And it’s funny at the very least, we require a shower head that detaches so that you can kind of wash her down and spray her. This apartment does not have a shower head, so we’ve had to get creative. We’ve had to get cups, bowls. We’ve had to fill them up with water. It’s like a whole experience. And again, this is something that I wouldn’t have considered once upon a time. And something that I’m going to start looking at now, whether it’s through TripAdvisor or some other review platform, is how high the bed is because even though we request the pack ‘n play, my daughter, for the most part, refuses to sleep in the pack ‘n play. So we can put her down there, she’ll sleep at most an hour or two, and then she wants to come into bed with us.
So firstly, we need a king size bed so all three of us can fit in it. And secondly, I prefer for the bed not to be too high up off of the ground because I’m afraid of her falling. She sleeps like a maniac. So she’ll roll right off the bed and she has done in the past as well. So there are all these little things that come into play when traveling with a child. It’s forced me to be a more conscious traveler in so many ways and in ways that I never imagined. But once again, experiencing the world through her eyes, I mean, there’s nothing like it. It’s just so incredible to see her, I don’t know, encounter like sheep or something, or a chicken, or seeing her eat new foods for the time. I mean, there’s really nothing like it. And so it’s super fun, but it’s a completely different way to move about the world.
EF: Yeah. I just want to share, on that note, I just want to share some of the things that I have surprisingly learned to plan for or ask for, especially if you’re booking an Airbnb. The first one is we all feel like we want to get away right now. We want to get remote. We want to get off the grid with our kids or whomever. [But] a lot of baby equipment is in app form now and it’s on your phone, so be conscious of getting off the grid so much that you don’t have Wi-Fi because our baby monitor, we access it through Wi-Fi. So if you want to put your kid down and you want to still go out and have a drink on the porch or wherever you’re going in your Airbnb, if you can’t access the baby monitor, it makes it very difficult. So, Wi-Fi is not just about being removed from your email. Like there’s a lot of reasons to not get that far off the grid once you have a child. Also, for safety reasons, frankly, let’s be honest, if you need to make a call or anything like that.
And another one is to check your Airbnb to see if they have a gate around the pool area. I once rented an Airbnb with several very small children, a couple of toddlers, and there was no gate and we did not think to ask and it made for a very stressful five days. So just little things like that to be aware of. And also, things like stairs, not just because they can fall down that, but if a house or a room is only accessible via a big staircase, that’s heavy. It’s hard to carry your child all the way up and down the stairs, so just be conscious of that when you’re renting a place.
MC: I want to loop back around to destinations briefly. You’ve both hit different types of places in the past year and I’m curious to know any destinations that you found were particularly family friendly. And then I’m going to ask Lale and myself to contribute places that we loved going as kids, which admittedly might be different now than they were when we were kids. Oneika, if you want to start, just any places that you felt like really worked for your family?
OR: Okay. You know what, I will recommend a place that was not very family friendly, but I loved it, and that’s Santorini. I traveled to Santorini with my daughter and my husband. She was, I believe, eight months old at the time. If any of you have been to Santorini, you’ll know that it’s… Santorini, Oia, the whole island is full of stairs. So Thera, Oia, all these little towns on the island of Santorini, there are a lot of cobblestones. There are lots of different levels. Not great for a baby—particularly a baby that does not walk, and so we had a little bit of trouble getting around. It was a bit cumbersome. But the pictures look fantastic. Gorgeous. Gorgeous destination.
However, on the flip side, we were just in Aruba and I absolutely loved it for traveling with small children and one of the reasons is because my daughter loves the beach and the water is so shallow and so clear and so warm. So I felt very comfortable bringing my daughter into the water. The waves were not very strong on the part of the island we were at, which is like Eagle Beach, Palm Beach. That’s where all the resorts are. The sand was really fine. I would say 99 percent of the restaurants we went to had a high chair. There were other kids there, so if my daughter started wailing, I didn’t feel embarrassed or mortified because there were other people traveling with children as well. I felt it to be a very welcoming destination full of families and not just adults only. So there are lots of different options there, so I loved it for traveling with my daughter.
And also, in terms of COVID, I felt quite reassured there because they require a negative COVID test within 72 hours pre-departure. I felt safer knowing that people had to test before coming onto the island.
MC: And Erin, how about you? What are your top family friendly places thus far?
EF: Well, honestly I have to say that Anna Maria Island was very family friendly. I was there with a range of kids under the age of nine. And it’s surrounded by beaches and actually, Oneika makes a great point, some of the beaches are very shallow, which was very helpful for a three-year-old who was a little bit scared of the waves but still wanted to get wet. And, you know, it’s sort of that version of vacation-land where you can rent the bikes and you can rent the… I forget the name of those canopy bikes, but I had to pedal them for me and my niece and my nephew and everything. It’s very slowed down and it was very, very easy and there’s just a lot of amenities and facilities and it’s just set up to accommodate families. That would probably be my one. I have not traveled as much as a mother as Oneika has, but that worked out very, very well I have to say.
MC: Lale, what was your favorite place to go to as a kid that you could recommend now?
LA: Oh my God. Well, you know, as the child of a Turkish father, I spent most summers in Turkey, which was magical and wonderful—and people in Turkey are obsessed with children, much like Italy I think from what Erin suggested earlier. Everyone is always just trying to hold you… me… the child at the time, or your child. And I have very fond memories of it.
But also we used to go to Cornwall and to the beach in Cornwall with my grandparents a lot. And again, I think there’s just something about being on the beach, sounds very English, but with a bucket and spade and just splashing around in the water. Kids can occupy themselves for hours and hours and if you are not someone that is growing up or raising your children on the coast, it just feels endlessly exciting I think. Yeah, I can’t wait to get back to Cornwall. I think it’s going to be on my list when I finally get home.
EF: I spent all of my childhood summers on Hilton Head and it was sort of very similar. I mean, it was just plop us on the beach and for me it felt like an eternity in the best possible way that we’re like splashing the water, we’re like riding waves, diving for the sand dollars, and kicking the sand dollars up from underneath your feet. And it was so simple and so easy and I have such fond memories of it. And I think it’s for that reason because it was just so joyful and joyous—to everyday wake up and just spend eight hours on the beach. You know, we’d get pulled down there in our little red wagon, down the road, off to the beach, and it was just so lovely and easy.
LA: And I think if you’re obviously a bit older than Kira and Leo, children that are a bit older than that, means you can kind of have a sort of like fake sense of independence as a child when you’re on the beach. Because you can sort of stomp off and have these adventures on this strange kind of extended timeline for the day and your parents don’t ever stop watching you, but you as a child think that you’ve gone off and done all this stuff on your own.
EF: I think that’s a great point.
MC: I’m going to suggest two places that I loved going as a kid when I was admittedly older than Leo and Kira, but not a ton older, which were Bend, Oregon, and Jackson, Wyoming, which are of very different from the beach, but still give you tons of outdoor activities and lots of relaxation opportunities. I loved river rafting as a kid. And again, because you’re not on rapids or anything when you’re going down the river in Oregon, it was a less stressful experience for my parents and we could just chill, fish off the side of the raft with our life jackets, and they knew that if we fell in the water they could swiftly pull us back in.
And in Jackson, just being able to hike when we wanted to, but also just drive, almost have like a driving safari experience through the national parks up there, Grand Teton, be able to see the bison. My parents could drive around, let us just like ooh and ah out the window and have a great time without having to exhaust us—which I’m sure was actually their M.O., by having to plan hikes or having to carry us or anything like that. So, yeah I think what you were saying Oneika earlier about road trips is so true. Even if you’re just driving through a national park or planning something much longer.
Oneika and Erin, thank you so much for joining us today. If people want to keep up with everything you get up to this summer with your adorable little kiddos, where can they find you on the internet?
EF: You can find me on Instagram at @erin_florio.
OR: You can also find me on Instagram at @oneikatraveller, and that’s traveler with two L’s because I am Canadian.
MC: Perfect. I’m at @ohheytheremere.
LA: I’m at @lalehannah.
MC: Be sure to follow Women Who Travel on Instagram at @womenwhotravel and subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter, which will be linked in the show notes. Thank you both again so much for joining us and we’ll talk to everyone else next week.
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