Deux Filles Américaines à Paris...Journey with an 11 month old to Paris!

Cultured Americana is still here!!!! 2017 has been a whirlwind  of a year! However, I haven’t been too active on the blog. The purpose of my starting Cultured Americana was to share my adventures and fun life experiences. I am still having amazing adventures but now most of my adventures include my 18 month old daughter, Heléna! I struggle with how much of my daughter I should share. I love reading “mommy blogs” but not sure if that’s what I want Cultured Americana to become. If you follow my instagram, you may have noticed that it’s become kinda a "mamagram". It wasn't an intentional shift but it depicts the adventures of my life right now and they are great!

So now that I explained my absence from the blog, I thought I’d tell you all about that time  I flew with an  11 month old from San Francisco to Paris by myself, carry on only! I get a lot of questions about our jet setting experience so how about some “Paris with an 11 month old FAQs”.

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Q: Why would you want to take a baby to Paris? She won’t remember it? 

A: First of all, we don’t know what she will and will not remember. I want a love for travel, culture and rich experiences to be a big part of who my daughter is. My goal is for her to be a citizen of the world and be brave and fearless. Travel promotes this! People also told me I couldn’t travel once I had a baby, especially internationally. Guess what?  I can, I did and you can too if you so desire! 

There is also a bit more to the story. I knew when I had children I would want to travel with them. My daughter is a special baby. I had some complications during my pregnancy which resulted in  having to deliver her prematurely. She was a little over three pounds at birth and spent almost a month in the NICU. While she was tiny and in an incubator I promised her I’d show her as much of the world as I could. I wondered if she could get a passport stamp by the time she was one year old. What an accomplishment that would be! Heléna came home and has never looked back. Our trip to Paris was our victory lap! Finally, Paris is always a good idea!

Q: I still don't understand. Why not wait until she is older for Paris? 

A: Contrary to popular belief, babies are a little easier to travel with when they are young, small, sleep a lot and not so active like older children. At 11 months, Helena was approaching the toddler stage but still small (plus of having a premie she was very compact like a much younger baby) and she still napped quite a bit.

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Hey!! All ya'll goin' to France too???

I couldn't get her to rest in the bassinet so she ended up resting comfortably in her carseat and we used the bassinet for storage. 

Q; How was the plane trip? 

A: Fine. We took off right around her bedtime. She slept most of the 10 hour flight! She was small enough to fit in the airplane bassinet but too active for it, so she slept comfortably in her carseat. Oh by the way, I bought Heléna a seat even though she could fly for free. It was totally worth it. The extra space was great and I felt sorry for the family next to us who had their toddler’s head on the dad’s lap and body on the mom’s lap the whole trip. But you do you!

Q: What can you do in Paris with a baby? 

A: Everything! We had a wide open itinerary. There were only two things we “had to do”. We scheduled a photo shoot and we wanted to go to the Picasso Museum. Everything else we played by ear. We stayed in Le Marais neighborhood which is a fantastic neigborhood for exploring and where the Picasso Museum is located. We spent a lot of time walking around and getting into whatever moved us that day. Sometimes that meant an impromptu picnic, browsing through the fun homeware store, Merci, shopping at the  fabulously chic toy store,  BonTon  or even an upscale dinner. I really didn’t feel prohibited. We also were really into Parisian Cafe Culture and Heléna got really into croissants. 

Q: Photo shoot, tell us more about that?

A: In 2015, I visited Barcelona solo and decided to do a photoshoot tour. I highly recommend this as it’s a great way to get quality vacation photos that feature you enjoying the vacation. Heléna and I had Ari from Paris Tour Photos  do a photo shoot for us at the Eiffel Tower! We were inspired by the iconic picture of Run DMC in front of the Eiffel Tower so we did kinda a glam Adidas look for the shoot! We had a blast! Helena tolerated the unfamiliar situation and slept through half the photo shoot. Ari felt bad about it but I said “hey this is our life right now” She naps…..even in Paris,  so capture it! 

Q: How did you pack light? You really were carry on only? 

A:I used the same packing methodology I used during our Long Beach Trip. Additionally, I rented baby stuff at a fantastic company called Baby’tems. We rented a portacrib from Baby'tems and although we brought our Mountain Buggy Nano stroller, we rented a fantastic Babyzen Yoyo travel stroller. from them as well.  More on that in a subsequent question below.  See all we brought below. Not shown, the monster of a carseat! Tip: We brought enough diapers, wipes, etc to last the journey to Paris  and a day or two after. We bought everything else in Paris! There are babies living in Paris... as such they sell baby supplies at Monoprix and other places. 

Q: Were you afraid to take a baby to Paris?

A: I was a little nervous about the long flight but I just made sure I was as prepared as I could be. I made sure I had plenty of food, milk and water for my daughter. I also knew that if I was anxious, she would be anxious so I just tried to relax and go with the flow. 

Q: Any nightmare experiences you want to share? 

A: Yep, the airline lost a wheel on our stroller. The stroller was to be used during our stay but it was also a key piece of equipment for navigating through the airport. As such, when we landed in Paris I had to wear my daughter on my chest with a travel backpack on my back, diaper backpack on my shoulder and lug her awkward carseat though the airport. I was not pleased. While en route to our apartment, I emailed Baby’tems and told them we would be needing a stroller as well. By 10am the next morning, a stroller was delivered to our apartment. We weren’t limited to staying at home before the stroller arrived as I wore Helena (we use the Boba 4g) so we traveled around our neigbnorhood that way. 

Q: How did you get around Paris? 

A: For the trip to and from the airport we used a  with a fantastic car service called Allonavette.  Their cars include a carseat free of charge. Additionally, our driver ( he was our driver both ways) was extremely nice. This was really appreciated after discovering our stroller was unusable. I was also glad I paid for an upgrade so he picked us up a large body Benz! In our neighborhood of Le Merais, we used our rented stroller to get around. If using a stroller in Paris, I highly suggest using a small travel stroller like the Mountain Buggy or Babyzen. Large jogging strollers will not work on small Parisian streets or in tiny shops.  On the Metro, I wore Heléna in our Boba 4G soft carrier. Do not take a stroller on Metro if you can avoid it. Another benefit of traveling with a baby, they can be worn! Baby wearing rocks!

Q: Any particularly fun memorble moments? 

A: There were many but here are a few: 

  1. Heléna trying her first Macaroon across from Notre Dame.
  2. Helena living her best life when she woke up from a nap with croissant flakes stuck to her forehead.
  3. Geting VIP access at the Louis Vuitton store at Galeries Lafayette because Helena was with me. They literally let us skip the line, drew back the velvet rope and ushered us in the store because I was standing in line with her strapped to my chest. Life is good when you have connections!

To sum it up, we had a blast! I loved exploring the city with her and seeing her thrive in a foreign country. The French love babies and she did a great job of winning friends and influencing people. I am so glad we took this amazing trip. As I write, my daughter is 18 months. In 2017 she has been on 8 flights! Looking forward to collecting more travel experiences with this fun tike!

 

 

Solo Travel Roadmap: Baby Steps to Adventure!

One day you will wake up and there won’t be anymore time to do the things you’ve always wanted to do. Do it now!
— Paulo Coehlo
Roma 2014- Castel Sant' Angelo

Roma 2014- Castel Sant' Angelo

Lately there has been a lot of discussions about solo travel and female solo travel in particular. It is almost as if it's becoming a movement. I have been traveling solo for several years now and honestly I've had so many questions about my adventures.  I started to feel I should .....I don't know......blog about it. So Cultured Americana was born! I would like to share with you my thoughts and experiences with traveling on my own. I prefer these blog post to be quick reads because people generally have short attention spans .This is an interesting topic that may result in several blog post.  So post #1 will be how I started this enthralling journey of traveling solo!

How did I start on this solo travel path? I've always had people in my life who would say "one day I'm gonna...one day I should" and sadly "one day" or "some day" never came. Or perhaps it came and went. No disrespect but I don't want that to be my life. I say "don't talk about it be about it! You are the architect of your life. Turn your dreams into a plan and then execute! Collect Experiences!!!"  OK off my soap box. I quickly learned that a lot of people deprive themselves of life's beautiful experiences; whether it be something as simple as going to the movies or taking an international trip because they don't have a companion to share the experience. I couldn't let this be my life! I value shared experiences with loved ones but if they aren't ready I can't wait around as life quickly marches on. Ya feel me?? Carpe Diem ya'll! 

So once I mustered up the courage to live life on my own terms and venture alone...How did I go about it? I took baby steps. If you are reading this and you are interested in traveling solo but intimidated, I suggest you take baby steps as well. You can do this!! I didn't just wake up and take a big trip to Europe by myself. My progression plan was as follows:

2008- I went to NYC to visit a friend. Now technically this isn't a solo trip but since my friend worked in the day I was left alone to explore a big city on my own. One small step in the West Village would lead to one large leap into Rome one day! I realized it's no different then exploring my own city solo.  No big deal. 

2009- My bravery grew so I went on a Caribbean Cruise (Puerto Rico, St. Thomas and St. Martin). This was actually a singles cruise! So I went alone but once on the cruise I was part of a group. Now let me share with you the genius of this. I was with a group but on my own since I didn't come with anyone. Therefore,  I wasn't responsible for anyone but myself. Most people bring a single buddy on cruises like that. After a few days on the cruise people that had brought friends would tell me "you are soooo smart coming alone!"  I was also forced to put myself out there and make friends. And believe you me... I made a lot of friends! I'm still friends with some of the people I met on that trip. Solo (or semi-solo ) travel success! This was another baby step.....but a bit bigger. 

2010- My first REAL solo trip.....Domestic but still all alone in our Nation's capital, Washington D.C. On this trip I started to learn a little bit on how to travel solo but not be totally alone. I would sit at the chef's table at restaurants and chat up the culinary talent. I also became chummy with the concierge at the hotel when I suspected he was Ghanaian (I'm half Ghanaian). Once it was confirmed we had the African connection, he sent complimentary wine and cheese to my room and suggested a great tour. I already had done a "bike the sights" tour from a company I found online. However, the concierge suggested Chocolate City Tours.  This was a private tour where I saw the sights via segwey and learn about African-American history in Washington D.C. This didn't feel like a traditional tour. Instead it felt like my tour guide, Corey was an old friend who was showing me his city and he happened to be a African-American History major. He was fun and provided great insight and education. Additionally, he doubled as my personal photographer! 

2012- Big Leap Ya'll!! My First solo international trip: London and Paris! This is a good route to take to ease oneself into traveling abroad solo. London is great because it's foreign, it's European.....but they still speak English. I spent a few days there and got my feet wet being in a foreign land on my own. I then took the Eurostar to Paris. France was an amazing shock and gave me an opportunity to stare my solo travel fear dead in the eyes. I was afraid of going to a country where English was not the national language. I loved Paris! Who doesn't love Paris! I struggled to communicate because I knew very little French. However, I learned a lot during this stretch of my journey. Two key lessons learnt: 1) I learned to sympathize more with people who move to the United States who don't speak a lick of English. The shoe was on the other foot now. I just wanted to be understood and yearned for a little patience (by the way, the French weren't rude when they realized I couldn't speak French contrary to popular belief). I went home having a lot more compassion for foreigners. Now isn't that the point of travel....to gain perspective and perhaps a new point of view?? 2) I also learned that if one is going to go to another country where their home language isn't the national language, they will have a more enriched, meaningful experience if they learn the language and learn as much about the culture as possible!

 

2014- Italia! This was my best wanderlust adventure to date. Italy was my longest international solo trip and my second trip to a place where English was not the national language.  I was better prepared this time around. I studied Italian for three months and became obsessed with Italian culture months before my trip. I also discovered great podcast and travel books to prepare myself for the journey. I highly recommend Rick Steves' books, TV shows and podcast. To date, I have written two blog post about Italy and I have a couple of more up my sleeve. This trip changed me!

 2015- Now, I am planning a solo trip to España (Spain)! I hope to collect fantastic experiences to share with you later this year. 

Stay tuned for more blog post about solo travel which will include more lessons learnt, tips, and other discoveries. There are also tons of blogs out there about solo travel so just immerse yourself in the possibilities and take a leap of faith. Let me know if you have any questions. I'd love to hear from you! Ciao!

----The Cultured Americana