Showing posts with label On the Go. Show all posts

The Zen of Diaper Bags

Diaper bags are one of those pieces of equipment that even non-parents have opinions about.  They can be a kinda ridiculous fashion statement, be literally big enough to fit a sleeping baby, or just a plain old symbol of your new lameness.  This is probably because they come most places with you for several years (or more if you have more than one child).  So here are some practical thoughts on how to pick one and what to put in it.

What should you have in your diaper bag?

Very little.  Ok so our diaper bag pretty much lives on the stroller, which means that I never have to carry it.  Even with that, I hate having a big over stuffed bag because it means I can never find what I'm looking for.  So we keep it light.  Here is what you actually need to have with you:
  • for all munchkins
    • diapers
    • wipes
    • change of clothes
    • a couple plastic bags (for disposing of poopy diapers or containing soiled clothes). Regular grocery bags will do or you can go with something like the Munchkin Diaper Bag Dispenser.
    • a changing pad
    • seasonally appropriate items such as a baby hat or sunscreen 
    • tiny hand sanitizer (soap and water is best for cleaning your hands after a diaper change, but for those rare times that you have to change a diaper not in a bathroom, hand sanitizer is needed)
  • for babies only
    • some way to feed the baby if you're a non lactating parent
    • nursing cover if you are the lactating parent 
  • for toddlers only
    • hand wipes
    • tissues
    • one non perishable emergency snack. (We are definitely a "no snacking on the go" family.  However, sometimes circumstances beyond your control necessitate a change in plan.  One time, my husband was on a bus bringing my toddler daughter home from daycare when all traffic stopped for an hour because the president had come to town. Delaying a tired one year old's dinner by an hour in a confined space is a recipe for all kinds of mayhem and a well placed granola bar can go a long way to keeping everyone's hearing intact.)

How do you pick a diaper bag?

In my humble opinion, you should pick the smallest bag you can find that both parents are willing to carry.

Why the smallest?

Nature abhors a vacuum and you will fill whatever sized bag you buy.  Thus, on those days when you do actually have to carry it, it's going to suck.  Also you'll never find the thing you're looking for.

Doesn't each parent deserve their own bag?

There is definitely advice out there that says mom and dad need their own bag.  I find this highly dubious.  Moving your kids things from bag to bag or making sure both of them are stocked is never going to happen, and most likely one of them is going to gather dust permanently.  Here are a couple of brands we've found that make bags likely to be palatable to both parents:
  • Lassig. We have their messenger style bag and love it.  Though, full disclosure, the messenger bag is kind of big and we only got it when we found out we were having a second child.  The need to carry both baby and toddler things simultaneously necessitated a bigger bag than the one we had to start.  That said, the bag has been awesome from the way it clips to the stroller to the extra wide shoulder strap that makes it easy to carry even when full.
  • L.L. Bean.  They're known for their high quality bags of all kinds, so why not diaper bags?
  • Skip Hop. They have a number of designs and sizes to match almost any kind of style or family.
  • DadGear.  This is a great brand for the most gender neutral of bags (all the way to full on "manly" cameo bags).
  • Ju-Ju-Be B.F.F.   These definitely run expensive but if you're looking for a diaper bag that truly converts from a purse into a backpack and has a fun design - this is your bag.
  • Any bag you are both willing to carry and can fit all the things. It's pretty easy to buy a changing pad and stroller clips and voila - you have a perfectly fine diaper bag of your very own!

Attach baby, see the world! (review of Ergo vs. Lillebaby structured carriers)

Baby in carrier, stroller in hand, ready to board the train!
Carriers are super useful in the first year of life, especially if you live in an urban area and like to go places without a car.  They can also be a great way to calm down an upset baby or give the baby a place to nap while out and about (while still maintaining use of both your hands).  There are even studies which show that periodic babywearing (as it's known in the biz) allows children to reach gross motor milestones earlier. (Note: I'm almost hesitant to mention this last fact because when I was Googling for the references on this, I came across all kinds of crazy websites advocating that you never put your child down in order to become a "natural" parent.  I don't even know where to begin deconstructing this.  Let's just say that I rolled my eyes so hard they almost got stuck in my skull.  Naturally (ha!) you have my full permission to put your baby down any time you damn well please! I assure you there is nothing "unnatural" about wanting space from your kids sometimes and no one will be damaged as a result.)

In any case, in the first 2 months of life I really recommend an unstructured carrier (doubly for Mom).  In the beginning they tend to be easier to put on and adjust to the adult, especially when the adult in question is still funny shaped from the pregnancy (though keep in mind, Mom won't be able to use the carrier for the first 2 weeks, but Grandparents and partners can). Also the structured carriers are all built to carry 3 year olds and so sometimes are hard to adjust to itty bitty babies. (You can see our review of the Moby and Infantino Mai Tai.)

Once your baby is big enough though, you may want to get a structured carrier for your and their comfort.  But which carrier should you get?  There are many of them on the market and we personally have tried 2 different ones: Ergobaby Original Baby Carrier and the LILLEbaby Complete Baby Carrier.

Ergobaby Original Baby Carrier

Getting squirmy toddler through airport security.
When our first child was born there was only one company that made "ergonomic" carriers, i.e. ones that were comfortable for the parents.  They called themselves "Ergobaby" (get it? get it?).  We got one and it was great.  It was an easy way to transport the baby, say onto an Amtrak train, and still have hands free for all your stuff. It had a "sun hood", which was great not just to protect the baby from the sun but also to help her sleep when we needed her to nap on the go.  It also had a pocket in the front which was a convenient place to store your cell phone/keys etc. if you were just taking a walk around the neighborhood and didn't need that much stuff with you.  Our baby also just enjoyed hanging out in it while we did other stuff and often it was a way to get her to nap when she just plain didn't want to.  We used it with some frequency until the kid was about a year old. In fact we have so many pictures of us carrying her around in it (in the carrier at a wedding! at a train station! with dad working at a computer!), it was hard to just pick 2.

Overall, it was great but from my perspective it had 2 downsides:
  1. 1. There was no front facing option with the "original" carrier, which was the only one available at the time. Facing forward would have been much more fun for the kid once she got to be about 4 months old.  Both Ergobaby and other brands have since come out with structured carriers that have this feature.

  2. 2. When the baby is under 3 months, you have to use this really bulky and hot insert with them.  This one was the real bummer, especially since our first baby was born in June and our second in July.  Even in the most recent version of this (the Ergo Baby 4 Position 360 Carrier ) they haven't entirely fixed it (the 360 infant insert at least does appear to be thinner).  Given that other options are available, if you think you'll want to use the carrier before the kid is 3 months, I would say it's definitely worth considering a different brand.

LILLEbaby Complete

Tiny baby, napping in the airport
When we found out we were expecting a second child, we knew we wouldn't have to get too many new things for him.  He was born a mere 2 years after the first and most things survived our daughters' use of them.  There were a couple of products, however, we wanted an updated version of and the structured carrier was one of them.  For this reason we set out to find a carrier that improved on the 2 things mentioned above that we didn't entirely love about the Ergobaby.  The LILLEbaby Complete Baby Carrier met all our needs in spec and has certainly lived up to expectations since then in use.

Baby, ready to see the world while Mom takes a walk
It's appropriate for use in the newborn stage without any inserts.  Like the Ergobaby, it has a pocket for transporting small things like a cell phone or a burp cloth.  It also boasts not only a sun hood, but a back that can be pinned down to give the baby a better view of the world even when the baby is worn parent-facing.  Not only that, but it can be converted to be forward facing relatively easily.  Most importantly, it is phenomenally comfortable for the parent (even more so than the Ergobaby).   It's a bit tricky to learn to put on but, the other amazing features of this are well worth it in my opinion.

Finally, what I love about this carrier is that it comes both in a "all season" and "airflow" version.  We got the "airflow" version because wearing a baby usually feels warm and one can always add a cover to it.  This carrier has been everything it promised to be and I am super excited to be using it until the kiddo outgrows it.


    

The amazing folding toddler carseat - lifesaver for Carfree families!!

2 year old in IMMI GO seat.
Anyone who knows me personally knows that I have a tendency to effervesce in the form of wild gesturing and Valley girl-style high pitched squealing when I get excited about something. Let me tell you, when I first read about the IMMI GO Car Seat, I reached full Alkaseltzer crossed with 1995 Alicia Silverstone. I was so excited! Since that initial love at first read, I've had the joy of using this car seat and being proven correct. 

Live carfree? You'll spend more time obsessing about carseats than your suburban friends...

Let's start with why car seats are the mortal enemy of city-dwelling families and then we can discuss why this particular one rises so far above the rest. What I need in a car seat is one that's light, foldable, easy to carry, and importantly, easy to install correctly - bonus if I can do it quickly enough that my toddler doesn't decide to bolt into traffic while my attention is elsewhere. Car seats, especially ones designed for kids after the infancy stage, are heavy, bulky, and not meant to be taken in and out of cars frequently. In fact studies show that most kids ride in car seats that aren't installed correctly, which means that more and more families are going to police departments to have their car seats installed professionally. This is all fine, but it in no way encourages car seat manufacturers to make these seats simpler to install correctly (again... improperly installed car seats aren't all that useful). And if they're so hard to install, then there's no reason to make them easy to transport. Add to this the recent trend to steel reinforced seats which are twice (or more) as heavy than regular seats... So car seats - the mortal enemy of the carfree family.

Aren't steel reinforced seats installed by professionals the safest thing for my child?

Yes? Maybe? Sometimes? The answer is, in fact, kind of murky.  First of all it's not actually clear according to the data that carseats are all that effective for kids over the age of 2 anyway.  Second of all, if you live carfree in a city, the overwhelming majority of the time you want to drive somewhere, you're driving on much slower-moving roads than if you live out in the middle of the country, in a state with very straight borders. (For good data on this look here - most fatal crashes occur on straight, fast moving highways... if you live in Massachusetts you have never seen one of those). Prior to the availability of the IMMI GO, many people have suggested things like a Car Seat Travel Cart or the Lilly Gold The Sit 'n' Stroll. These are fine for what they are, but they still require lugging a giant thing around, just on wheels. They also don't solve the problem of "I may need a car seat later so I'll just take one in case we decide to take a cab home for a quick get away".  These are not "maybe" solutions you'll just casually haul around with you - they are commitments.  (Also they are expensive so I've never gotten desperate enough to invest in either of them.)

How the IMMI GO changed my life!

Folded, the seat is about the size of a bulky briefcase
The IMMI GO fits all my criteria for a carseat and is totally small enough that I can carry it around as a "maybe". It folds, comes with its own attached carrying case, weighs only 10 lbs, is easy to install and adjust... correctly! It's brand new so you might not find tons of info about it but it is Carseat Lady approved (so I'm not the only crazy Internet lady who likes it).   

The only small, tiny quibble I have with it is that it only has a handle and not a shoulder strap.  But! We live in the age of the internet and such problems can be solved.  I ordered a strap from Mautto.com and was able to convert it into the ultimate portable carseat (pictured - Cotton Canvas Webbing Strap, 1.5" wide, 55" adjustable length).  At just 10 lbs, and carried hands free, I can take this on the train with me along with my toddler, purse, and whatever else I need.  I can know that if we're cutting it close to bedtime or dangerously approaching a toddler freak out, we're just a safe taxi ride away from home.

IMMI GO - you have this tired Mom's very sincere thank you!

This post is in the series of posts about carfree living. Other posts include thoughts on strollers for urban use, necessary accessories, and whatever else we think to blog about!

Have bag will travel - toddler edition!

That time of year is happening again when suddenly airports are filled with traveling families rather than business people and adventurers.  Traveling with children can be extremely stressful since disrupted schedules alone would be enough to turn many a toddler into a puddle of tantrum.  Add to that an unfamiliar environment, unclear expectations, crowds of unknown people and you have a recipe for mayhem.

So here is some basic advice based on our experience going to visit grandparents - a trip we've made with one or more children frequently over the last two and a half years.  This is admittedly the easiest destination to travel to, since it is a house full of people super excited for our arrival and who love nothing more than preparing for our visit (this certainly reduces our need for an extensive packing list).  That said, I think getting through the airport with little kids is a pretty universal experience of hell so hopefully this will be useful to you anyway.  But also here is some other good advice from around the internet.

Preparing yourself for traveling with kids

If you are used to traveling by yourself or just with your partner and considered yourself a jetsetter prior to having kids, traveling with the munchkins is going to require some adjustments.  The first thing to adjust is your expectations.  You will be a lot slower, louder, and messier.  That said, if you are anything like me, you may also suddenly acquire a much deeper well of empathy to dip into when stuck behind a family on your next business trip.  If you aren't used to traveling all that much, adding kids into the mix certainly doesn't help the pre-travel anxiety.  I don't have much advice for you here because we frankly fall into the first category.  However, I imagine the best thing you can do is read up on the current rules, think through the day, and talk to more experienced traveler friends.

Regardless of your travel experience, I highly recommend making a couple of packing lists.  We set them as calendar appointments for packing in the days before the trip, the night before, the morning of, etc.  We can then copy/paste them for the way home so as to make sure we don't forget anything while we're away. (The one time we didn't write a packing list, we forgot our daughter's comfort object at the grandparent's house...ouch).  We also make sure to pack a change of clothes for everyone in the family (adults included) in the carry-on, as children's accidents often land on adults.

Preparing your kids for traveling with you

If your toddler is anything like mine, then giving him or her a job, especially if it's like mom and dad's job, is key to getting cooperation. For this reason we got our daughter a Skip Hop Zoo Little Kid Suitcase (other colors and animals are available). It has a number of great features, other than the fact that it is adorable enough to keep our daughters interest.  It fits comfortably under the seat, which is what makes it the perfect carry-on item for kids' things.  It's easy to roll, so much so that our 2 year old can do it (see photo above).  She's also able to retract the handle by herself.  Additionally, it has a strap in the back so that if an adult needs to carry it for a period it's easy to throw over the adult's shoulder.  Not only that, but the people at Skip Hop even thought to make the strap capable of being put away so it doesn't drag when not in use!  All around, this is a great way to take things on your trip while also teaching your kid some responsibility for their own stuff.

The suitcase also allows us to help our daughter prepare for our upcoming travel.  She knows that when the suitcase comes out we're going to go on a trip. We let her pick out the clothes we're going to take with us and pack them in the bag (obviously reserving editorial rights for weather and the like.) After bedtime, we move the clothes to the checked baggage and then repack her Skip Hop suitcase with things both of them will need on the plane such as toys, books, blankets, snacks  etc.

Why Amazon Prime is your friend

Frankly I think Amazon Prime is the friend of urban parents (and residents) everywhere.  However, when it comes to traveling, it can come in especially handy.  For example, rather than packing bulky items such as diapers and wipes or relying on the grandparents to find the brand my kids are used to, we simply have them shipped to their house in advance of our arrival.  (You may very well be able to ship to a hotel as well, which may be worth it if you're staying for a week).

Additionally, Prime comes with access to Amazon Instant Video, which is a fine enough streaming service with one major additional benefit. Amazon (unlike Hulu and Netflix) let you download content to watch offline which means you can let your kid watch things like Sesame Street on your device without having to rely on wifi connections. Note: getting this set up the first time is kind of counter-intuitive (you have to sideload a separate app), so devote 30 minutes to getting it set up sometime the week before the flight.

Day of travel/In flight entertainment 

The last time we flew somewhere we had to get the kids out of bed at 4:30 am and I was terrified that our extremely habitual little creatures would melt down for 6 hours straight.  I did not give them enough credit.  The baby happily slept in the carrier and the toddler was so excited about her own suitcase that she dragged it through the entire airport like a total champ (see picture).  We were also sure to pack lots of toddler snacks and and suspend many of the rules we normally enforce about screen time, eating schedules, etc.

When on the plane we make full use of the pacifier clips to keep toys in easy access of both children.  Additionally we re-purposed the old cell phone we normally use as the white noise sleep aid to treat the toddler to some coveted screen time.  We come prepared with downloaded Sesame Street episodes (see above) and games.  If the device your child uses is an Apple device in these situations, there may be more options for games (here's one recommendation that sounds great) as kids development studios seem to favor iDevices.  Our device is an (old) Android phone and our toddler really likes puzzles so she has lots of fun with this game.

Stay calm

Finally, the best advice for traveling with kids we can offer is to stay calm.  Travel, much like labor, has an end point.  The flight will not last forever and neither will the whining/crying/frustration, should that be something you experience. Eventually you will all get to your destination, and possibly even with a story that you will find funny with time.

The truly versatile winter baby blanket

Whenever I see something advertised as having 20 uses, I assume that at least 19 of them are a terrible idea or a serious stretch.  It's pretty hard to design something that really and truly works well in multiple circumstances.  So when I saw the Kurumi Ket Carrier Cover with Hoodieadvertised as having "5 in 1 uses," I was extremely skeptical.  I was originally looking for a cover to use with a carrier while preparing for the arrival of our son.  This is because when my daughter was a baby, we just tried to carry her inside our coat (see picture on the right).  This really didn't work well and resulted in neither my daughter nor the parent carrying her being particularly warm.  So, I saw that the Kurumi Ket Carrier Cover with Hoodie had good reviews and figured that worst case, we would only use it as a carrier cover and nothing else.


Color me wrong.  So far we have tried this extremely versatile blanket in a number of circumstances with great success.

Nursing on the playground

Nursing Cover

I don't always use a nursing cover for modesty reasons, especially when there is literally no one else around.  I have, however, started to have the experience of needing to nurse outside in less than pleasant weather.  When I only had one child, I would, of course, go somewhere more comfortable in these circumstances.  However, my older kiddo really does need to be able to run around and the younger kiddo isn't exactly patient when it comes to food.  Thus, I have been finding myself nursing on a park bench in all kinds of weather recently.  The Kurumi Ket really does work great as a cold weather nursing cover.  The fleece hood keeps it on the baby without much need to even close the snaps (though I could if I needed to) and I can still see what I'm doing.  Viola - baby and mom are warm.

Stroller Blanket

We never ended up getting one of those foot muffs for the stroller when my daughter was a baby (the Skip Hop Stroll and Go Three-Season Footmuff is a well regarded example).  We pretty much just put her in a warm coat and headed out.  If it was particularly cold we'd throw a blanket on her and if it was windy we'd use our rain cover.  However, for those days when the weather was changing and we ended up relying on the blanket more than planned, it was always a pain to keep it on her and in the stroller.  More often than not, the blanket would fall out at some point during the outing only to be rolled and then stepped on by yours truly.  This is why I totally love the idea of using the Kurumi Ket as a stroller blanket.  The little arms with snaps can attach to the stroller frame so there is no way of losing it.  They recommend attaching it "upside down" with the hood covering the baby's feet - genius!  It's certainly not as warm as a real footmuff but so far it's been working great.


Carrier Cover

Last, but not least, we are also using it as a carrier cover - the item of desire that started this whole thing in the first place.  Here I am, pictured about to embark on a walk with my little bear snuggled comfortably in his carrier, covered by the blanket.  

All around I would give this blanket an enthusiastic thumbs up!  Not only is it truly versatile but for the price it is honestly great value.  I think it's about to join the Mai Tai as a permanent resident of my stroller basket. 

Part 3 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss (what else do you need?)

See Part 1 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss (why)
See Part 2 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss (which stroller?)

Despite the fact that sometimes it feels like we live in the great white north (see: winter of 2015) my family spends quite a bit of time outside.  Some of this time is spent on the playground, and some is spent getting to and from places.  We run errands, we go out to eat, we go to the children's museum, and sometimes we plain ole' take a walk as a family.  (Our favorite destination is what we refer to as "the far Starbucks", all of half of a mile away.)  As such, we spend a lot of time thinking about the right weather gear and other equipment we need to make ourselves comfortable on our journey.

So here is our advice for the kinds of things you might want to add to your stroller (whether you went with our recommendation for the actual stroller or not) to make it the kind of tricked out ride that meets all your needs (oh yeah and those of your kid... the kid matters here too... yeah).

Rain cover

Ok, so once again, for kids in the back - we live in a city with terrible weather (but the food is great, or something).  Sometimes you just have to walk on the wild side, even though the sky looks ominous, and go outside anyway because you've been in the house too long. Other times you need to go outside, even though it's actively raining because you have to go to work.  For those days you need a rain cover for your stroller.  We use  the Snap Stroller Raincover and Weather Shield (because we have a Valco Snap Stroller) but pretty much every stroller company makes these things and some even make universal ones (for those of you out there who have multiple strollers).

On the day these photos were taken, I got caught in a rain storm so bad that even though I had an umbrella and eventually tried to hide under an awning, I looked and felt like I had taken a shower.  Meanwhile, my baby stayed bone dry and sleeping undisturbed in his protected chariot (and I didn't even have the cover fully secured because that freaks me out).  Our cover is also generous enough that it covers the diaper bag we keep clipped to the back - sweet.  It resides, almost permanently in the stroller basket and sometimes even gets pulled out when its particularly windy. (Really, you should visit our city, the food is fantastic.)

Cup holder

I don't actually have anything funny to say about our Valco Baby Universal Cup Holder because I love it so much.  It's just too serious a business to be glib about. I enjoy nothing more in this world then setting out on a nice long walk with a baby napping in the stroller and an ice coffee resting delightfully in its designated place.  This cup holder in particular will attach to any stroller.  It self levels and takes literally almost any width cup.  Also, it has a particularly handy feature in that the brace for the cup holder stays attached to the stroller but the holder itself can be detached easily.  This is a very useful attribute when you're trying to squeeze into a narrow space and it's getting in the way (like say your daily bus trip to day care).

Car seat adapter

If you're ever going to drive with your baby, even if you don't own a car, you're going to want a car seat and some way to transport it.  To accomplish this you can either buy a car seat with wheels, a "travel system", or an adapter for your chosen stroller to click in the car seat. A travel system is when you buy a stroller and car seat from the same manufacturer, i.e. a "system", so no adapter is needed.  (An example would be buying the Britax B-Agile and B-Safe Travel System.) However, outside of buying a system, most strollers sell adapters for most of the common car seat brands.  Yes it adds to the price of the stroller but infant car seats are heavy and unwieldy.  You're not going to get very far just carrying the thing on your arm (again, the other option is to shell out even more money and buy a car seat with wheels).  When we used a traditional infant car seat we had the Chicco Keyfit 30 Infant Car Seat and so Valco Baby Snap Car Seat Adapter (Chicco) was the correct item for us. Obviously you should pick the adapter that matches your stroller/car seat combination.

Hooks

If you regularly grocery shop or run errands with your stroller on foot, you're going to want some hooks to hang from the handle bar to help you transport your stuff home. For this purpose we have Stroller Hooks.  This allows us to transport an entire shopping trip exclusively using our stroller.   As a side note, you my have seen people walking around using something called The Mommy Hook (stupid name).  We picked the hooks we did because the velcro attachment on them keeps them from sliding around the handle and also because they were cheaper.

Word of caution: always fill up the basket of your stroller first before adding heavy things to the handle, especially while your baby is still a baby and not a giant toddler.  One downside of having an ultra-light stroller is that it can tip if you're not using common sense.

Baby entertainment

Finally, we've come to something that's for the baby instead of the parent (though of course, a quiet and entertained baby is really very much for the parent). There are many options for things to attach to the stroller to keep your wee one happy once they're not just using it as a convenient napping location.  We've enjoyed using the Skip Hop Stroller Bar Activity Toy as well as attaching other toys to the stroller straps with pacifier clips.  But frankly there are many options for stroller toys out there.


       


This post is the third in a series of posts about carfree living. Other posts include thoughts on strollers for urban use, necessary accessories, and whatever else we think to blog about!

Striking the balance between street urchin and sterile bubble kid

Stock web photo, not my kid.
We are big believers in giving our children the freedom to explore their environment.  I've read the studies on germs being good for kids.  I know all this and yet when I see my toddler covered head toe in god knows what (escalator grease? mud? sand from the sandbox?) I see it as a prime opportunity to practice my deep breathing or lose my shit entirely.  So we do our best to enforce the following rules.

  1. 1. You can play with anything on the playground, touch every bush on our walk, etc.  However, if you do this, no putting your hands in your mouth.

  2. 2. Should you wish to put your hands in your mouth we have to either wash them with soap and water or wipe them with Munchkin Arm & Hammer Pacifier Wipes.
We never use these for wiping pacifiers both because we use pacifier clips when out of the house and because we just pick the pacifier off the floor and put it back in the baby's mouth when we're home (see: lazy, germs are good).  I think we sterilized them when we first took them out of the package, per the instructions, and then again a couple months later when we had a bout of thrush in the house. 

However despite being called pacifier wipes, these guys are perfect, in my opinion, for wiping hands when out and about.  The wipes are wet and just have baking soda on them so we are not constantly rubbing anti-microbial agents on the kids.  Because they are labeled as pacifier wipes, we know any other stuff on them is safe to put in the mouth.  It seems like striking the right balance between the conflicting pull of not wanting to see your kid eat dirt and freaking out if you do.



Part 2 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss (which stroller?)


See Part 1 - I don't have a car but my stroller is boss.

If you live in the city and don't have a car, you probably need a good stroller (though even this fact can be debated by some).  I knew this decision was super important, so when I was pregnant with my first baby, I approached this with the kind of methodical process I am used to implementing at work - a spreadsheet.  Looking back at the spreadsheet I created then (yes I still have it, yes I am a dork, you're welcome), here are the criteria I evaluated all potential strollers on:
  • - weight
  • - wheel type/quality
  • - storage basket quality
  • - fold-ability
  • - 2nd child accommodation
  • - adjustable handle height
  • - width 
  • - parent-facing infant
  • - accessories available 
Two kids and a bazillion million stroller trips later, I have to say, these are not a bad place to start when looking for your own stroller.  Many people will tell you that the long list of criteria is why there is no such thing as a perfect stroller.  That you need a different stroller for different occasions (a heavy duty stroller for every day, a light stroller for travel, a jogging stroller with big wheels for bad weather and exercise, a something stroller for something else... I don't know, I stop listening at this point).  Those people live in a place where they have somewhere to put their arsenal of strollers (and I guess are willing to spend a looooot of money on them for only occasional use).

Based on an insane amount of googling, review reading, trudging to 5 different baby stores, and soul searching we finally settled on the Valco Baby Snap*.  You've probably never heard of this company and that's a shame.  It's the only stroller we own and it has held up admirably.  Please allow me to sing their praises in the post below (no they haven't paid me for this post).

With experience, I would say by far the most important criteria are weight, wheel type/quality, storage basket quality, and to a lesser extent, fold-ability.  However, let's go through each of the criteria mentioned and discuss at length (the only way I know how).

Weight

This is your most important criteria, frankly.  Most of Boston's transit is accessible, which means that usually an elevator is an option.  I say usually because it is not always the case.  I have picked this stroller up, carried it, bounced it up and down stairs, on and off buses and and and and...  I can do this because it weighs 13lbs (though I believe the current model comes in at 15 lbs).  Many strollers sold weigh in at a hefty 25lb+.  You may be thinking that you can easily lift that much and I'm sure you can, but you're forgetting the baby.  And this baby, will not be a baby for long... fast forward a year and you'll be adding 20lbs+ of child to that chunky stroller as well.... and a diaper bag... and your coffee... and the rain attachments... and the groceries you're taking home in the stroller...  Get a heavy stroller over 20lbs and you will curse the day you were born.

Wheel type/Quality

This feature is important for 2 reasons -  weather and maneuverability.  We live in the north and have terrible weather.  The wheels on our stroller have gotten through snow, slush, standing water, and have lived to tell the tale.  The suspension on the stroller has also let us go over train tracks with an infant who doesn't even wake up to notice.  This is another place where some people will tell you that you need a "jogging stroller" for the bad weather days.  Nope.  You just need a regular stroller with high quality wheels.

Storage basket quality

The worst thing about your kid growing up and deciding to ditch the stroller is that you now have to carry all those groceries home yourself.  The basket is where you'll put your rain cover, your unstructured carrier for baby freak out emergencies, your groceries, and your older child's coat they decided to ditch.  A good basket that's easy to access is your super best friend.

Foldability

One could argue that foldability only matters for the suburbanites who have to fold and fit their stroller in the trunk of their car all the time.  However, we have definitely gone to restaurants that are very small in our area and had to fold our stroller in order to fit our family inside.  Also our stroller has fit nicely in the overhead shelving of Amtrak trains.  Finally, it can be carried by the conveniently placed handle (see picture).

Note: this feature is much more important if you live in NYC.  As you've likely noticed the only way to get on the subway in most stations is to bounce your stroller down the stairs, take the baby out, fold the stroller, go through the (not accessible) fare gates, put the baby back in, and proceed (or go through the emergency exit and set off the alarm).  For this reason, having a one handed fold may be very important to you and thus possibly worth considering getting the Britax B-Agile Stroller (discussed below) instead, as it has a slightly easier fold.

Second child accommodation

I am a planner by nature.  Prior to having any children I thought I wanted two and so that is why I put this criteria on the list.  Having now had two children I recognize the foolishness of this kind of planning.  Whenever someone tells me how many children they want to have and how close together I smile at them and usually mumble something along the lines of "start with one and see where you end up".  Life is messy and complicated and there's no way to know how hard a conception/pregnancy/delivery/infancy will be on a family.  Other parts of life can interfere too.  I know so many families who thought they would only ever have 1 to end up with 3 and vice versa.  So on this topic, I say, plan for the child you're pregnant with now and don't buy a stroller with a frame that will accommodate 2 sitting children (popular examples of this are the Britax B-Ready, the Baby Jogger City Select, and the UPPAbaby Vista).  Buying a stroller that you hope will pan out 2 years from now when you have a second will result in you hating it for the entire time you use it with your first because it's too heavy to get onto a train.  Even if you do end up with two kids your oldest may be willing to walk most places.  You may be able to pop the baby in the carrier you have in your storage basked and let the older kid ride when they get tired.  And finally, almost any stroller will accommodate a hitchiker so that is always an option too.

Adjustable handle height

Ok this one is real.  My family is lucky in that I am 5'4" and my partner is 5'3".  This means that any stroller that works for one of us works for both of us.  If one or both of you are tall, you're possibly going to need a stroller with an adjustable handle height.  Here are some urban friendly options you might consider
  1. 1. Buying a stroller handle bar extender like this one.

  2. 2. The UPPAbaby Cruz Stroller. This stroller is more expensive and the wheels are less good.  That said, it's light enough, and if you're tall, this may be one of your few options.

  3. 3. The Mountain Buggy Mini Travel system.  I don't know much about this stroller other than the fact that it made the rounds of the urban parent internet when it came out.  I know it's a high quality brand and the specs of this guy seem good.  If you're tall, this is certainly an option worth considering. 
  4.  
  5. 4. The Baby Jogger City Mini GT Single Stroller (don't confuse it with its not "GT" cousin the Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller, which does not have an adjustable handle and has crappier wheels). We are friends with a mixed height urban dwelling couple who have had good luck with this guy and you certainly see plenty of them walking around.  Definitely seems worth a test drive.

Other things on the list

  1. 1. Width - It turns out most (non-double) strollers are pretty much the same here.  Ours is on the narrow side, which is of course better but it's not much of a differentiator.

  2. 2. Parent-facing infant seat - This is certainly a nice to have, especially if you're a nervous parent.  That said, the importance of this feature shrinks when compared to others. 

  3. 3. Accessories - these are really important.  So important, in fact, that we will write a whole other post about them.
  4.  
  5. 4. Price.  You may have noticed this was missing from the original list of criteria and this is because I purposely omitted it.  I went into my search thinking that since we don't have a car we were going to live and die by our stroller choice so it was worth spending some dough on.  That said, the stroller we picked was actually THE CHEAPEST one we considered coming in at under $300 (the price varies based on your color choice).  Isn't that always a nice surprise?

That's all great but I just cannot buy a stroller without a test drive

If you live in the Boston area, Baby-Koo carries them in stock so feel free to head on over to them.  I'm sure most big cities have at least one retailer that does as well.  However, if you cannot find one, a really good runner up to the Valco Snap is the Britax B-Agile Stroller.  It's almost identical on features and price.  However, in the end we picked the Valco for the slightly better wheels and the fold that results in the seat being inside rather than out (so we don't have to worry about it getting dirty when folded and stashed in the back of a restaurant).  That said, if the Valco didn't exist, this would be my stroller of choice.

 * Note: we bought our stroller in 2012 and since then many new models of this same stroller have come out.  We have good friends who own the 2014 version and we remain convinced that this is an excellent stroller, especially for the price.


This post is the second in a series of posts about carfree living. Other posts include thoughts on strollers for urban use, necessary accessories, and whatever else we think to blog about!