A Travellerspoint blog

Flashback: Washington, DC and the blizzard of aught-nine

December 2009

snow

Just a month after our trip to San Diego, we were on the road again. I had to be in DC for work, and my husband and daughter (then 7 months old) came along. For this trip, at least, I had done what I could in the planning phase to make the trip easier on us. I had chosen a hotel near the meeting site and Metro, and I booked our flights into Reagan National Airport so we could take Metro straight to the hotel.

We also had adjusted expectations. We knew that getting my daughter down for the night would be a challenge. We asked for a crib, but had traveled with the carseat/stroller travel system so that my daughter would have an alternate place to sleep; this ended up being a good thing because she used it more than the crib.

In all, the trip started off well. I was able to feed my daughter or pump during our breaks, and the meetings themselves went fine. However, things got crazy that weekend.

The forecast was predicting lots of snow for the weekend. When the meetings ended on Friday afternoon, everyone from the east coast was scrambling to get home. I briefly looked into changing our itinerary but couldn't get us back to Phoenix that evening. Our flight was early enough in the day on Saturday that we might get out before the snow hit. I checked the weather on my phone frequently to monitor the situation. I remember going to bed Friday evening, looking out the window, and not seeing a single flake.

I was up once in the night and looked out the window again. The cars were lightly dusted with snow.

When my daughter and I woke up for the day, there was more snow. I got online to check our flight: it was cancelled. I then called JetBlue customer service to reschedule. They dropped my call twice. It was maddening. Then I got smart and decided to choose Spanish customer service and eventually got to speak to a person. The best they could do was put us on a flight out of BWI the next day. We figured that we could get out there for that. It was not an ideal situation, but I was proud that my Spanish skills had helped us reschedule.

We booked ourselves a hotel room near BWI for that night so we could be closer to our flight. Then we packed and checked out of our hotel in the District. Our plan was to use Metro and a shuttle to get to BWI and then take the free shuttle to the hotel.

Then we stepped outside.

About 3 inches had piled up, but nothing had been cleared from the sidewalks or roads. The wind was fierce, and more snow was falling fast. We were having trouble pushing the stroller and pulling our roller bags. Even though the Metro stop was only about a block away, we turned around and went back inside the hotel after just a few steps... and thank goodness we did: although Metro was running at the time, it closed soon after, and there were stories of people stuck in subway cars for hours. The thought of being in that situation with an infant still makes me shudder.

We then decided to call a cab to get us to our new hotel. After several tries, a dispatcher answered the phone. We were then told it would take 90 minutes for the cab to get there. We spent that time in the hotel lobby, doing our best to keep our daughter entertained. Meanwhile, the snow kept falling.

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Once we were in the cab, we saw just how bad the situation was. The streets had not been cleared, not even the expressways. It took about another hour and 20 minutes to get to the new hotel, even though traffic was nonexistent.

We arrived at the new hotel to find a lobby full of people, all of whom had been stranded because their flights out of BWI had been cancelled. My husband and I were also starving because we had missed lunch and eaten through my stash of granola bars (my daughter could nurse, so she was fine). The other folks in the lobby informed us that a Chinese restaurant down the road was still delivering. My husband called in our order to a guy who sounded quite frazzled. Our food arrived about 90 minutes later. We considered ourselves lucky because families who arrived later and tried calling for food found that they were no longer taking orders.

If we were fortunate with regard to the food, we were not with regard to our flights. Midway through our lunch/dinner, I learned that our Sunday flight had been cancelled. I called customer service again, again choosing the Spanish option. This time I was told that if our family wanted to fly home together, we wouldn't be able to leave until that Wednesday--on a flight out of Dulles.

Yes, that would be a third airport: Reagan, BWI, and now Dulles. It would be another drive across metro DC. It would also mean a wrinkle in our holiday plans. My parents were flying into Phoenix on Tuesday to spend Christmas with us, but now we wouldn't be getting in until Wednesday, and our friends who had spare keys to the house were going out of town themselves. It was a mess, but we had no choice but to take the Wednesday flights. It occurred to me that if I had just stuck it out on English customer service, I might have gotten us rebooked for Monday or Tuesday and ultimately gotten us home sooner. So much for my bilingual pride.

Fortunately, things started getting better on Monday. One of my best friends lives in the Maryland suburbs of DC. She and I had been in touch throughout the whole storm and she wanted to help, but she and her family were stuck because 2 feet of snow had fallen and no plows had come, making their street impassable. They were finally plowed out by Monday morning and came to get us. We would have been happy to see them under any circumstances, but it was especially great to see them then. Our friends have a child who is the same age as my daughter. Not only did this make for fun play time, they bailed us out just as our stash of diapers and baby food was running low. The babies enjoyed playing together and we enjoyed catching up.

Our friends had tickets to fly out on Tuesday; the airports were functioning again by this time, so we said goodbye. They were nice enough to give us a spare key and let us stay at their place until we flew out. We were grateful to have the extra space and a whole new set of baby toys to entertain our daughter, who was getting bored with the toys we'd packed for her. Early on Wednesday morning, we caught a shuttle van to Dulles and flew back home. Upon arrival, my husband and daughter drove to pick up my parents from their hotel while I cleaned the house like a madwoman.

Lessons learned:

1. Pack extra baby items. My rule of thumb is 8 regular and 2 nighttime diapers for each day on a trip plus an extra day's worth; it covers you for even a prolific day of diaper use and leaves you with extra. I also try to pack one extra outfit, an extra set of pajamas, and a couple of extra jars of baby food. My extra packing alone would not have gotten us through all of our extended stay in DC, but it got us through the time when we were stuck in hotels and businesses were closed. Had we not been able to stay with friends, we would have had enough to get by until we could take a cab to a store.

2. If you travel with a breast pump, give yourself extra time at security. With so many moms out there traveling for work, you'd think that TSA agents would have seen a breast pump before. Unfortunately, this is not the case. On several occasions, I've had to explain what it is and that no, I can't remove it from the bag because the motor is built in. For this lesson, I remember my flight home from DC the most because my family had to wait while our inept agent got a supervisor to confirm that it was indeed a breast pump. We still made our flight, but it was frustrating to be slowed down like that.

3. Think carefully about rescheduling flights when you're stranded by weather. My first instinct had been to get my family out ASAP, but it backfired, especially in metro DC where they aren't equipped with as many plows and salt trucks as cities farther north. Even though the snow stopped on Sunday, airports and businesses didn't open immediately because people were still snowed in. If that had occurred to me when rescheduling flights, I may have tried to take it into account and schedule something for Monday. I may have been able to save my family the hassle of a second cancelled flight.

Posted by amikulski 14.08.2014 13:30 Archived in USA Tagged children snow washington Comments (0)

Flashback: November, 2009--San Diego, CA

Although my first trip with my daughter taught me to be wary of mixing personal and professional trips, I did it again a month later. Why, you ask? Well, it came down to four things.

1. My attendance was required at this conference.
2. If I brought my daughter along, I wouldn't have to pump at the conference or build up a frozen milk stash to get her through the time we'd be apart.
3. The conference was in San Diego, so my sister, who lives in LA, could join us for part of the weekend.
4. This trip was planned as a family trip even before we went to Michigan.

This trip was also going to be different enough from the last one that we didn't dwell too much on comparisons. Instead of flying, we'd be driving. We'd be at a hotel, not at my parent's house. Once again, we went headlong into a journey that I had envisioned (before having my daughter) as a great family trip.

The drive to San Diego went pretty smoothly. When we arrived at our hotel, we received 2 pieces of good news: 1) we had a free upgrade to an ocean view room,

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and 2) we could choose a traditional crib or a pack-and-play for our daughter. After our experience in Michigan, we decided to try the crib. When it arrived in the room, we rolled it to the window and sat my daughter in it so she could get familiar with it. She seemed happy enough.

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That night, we put my daughter in the crib and everything was fine--at first. She woke up an hour later. The next several hours were a blur as my husband and I took turns through the night. We would get her asleep and lay her down in the crib, only to immediately wake up and cry. I remember wondering how long to let her cry it out before we'd upset people in the neighboring rooms (I never lasted more than a few minutes). I remember putting a couch cushion on the floor and trying to get her down on that while I laid on the floor next to her. Most of all, I remember putting my daughter in her stroller and walking laps in the hotel hallways. That is how she finally fell asleep. It was 4 AM. I decided not to take her out of the stroller. With all of her previous waking up, I didn't want to take any unnecessary risks by lifting her out. Besides, I figured that it would be hard for the stroller to work out worse than than the crib. She slept for about 4 hours. Fortunately, I had no early morning commitments the next day, because I felt like a zombie.

I also felt very worried about how I was going to make it through the conference. I think we tried the crib for naps and bedtime a couple if other times, but my daughter started crying as soon as we laid her down. On the other hand, she would stay asleep if we set her down in her car seat. After that rough first night, my daughter ended up sleeping in her car seat every night. It didn't strike me as more comfortable than the crib, but maybe I was wrong because she slept through the night every time we started in car seat.

We didn't have lots of time for sightseeing because of my conference commitments, but we did see a few things. We walked around the Gaslight District and checked out a couple of restaurants there. When my sister came in to visit, we walked through the Little Italy neighborhood and went for a drive on Coronado Island.

Our drive back was not quite as smooth as the way there. Somewhere outside of Yuma, my daughter became very upset. We pulled into a gas station and I tried to feed her. She was still crying. Because she was in a rear-facing infant seat as we traveled east, she was looking west as the sun went down. We thought that the sun might be in her eyes, so I tried holding a receiving blanket so that it would block the sun but not the rear view. She still cried. Two days later, her first tooth broke through: mystery solved!

Lessons learned:

1. Suite-style hotels are great for families. My conference had special rates at an Embassy Suites, so that's where we stayed. It was great on many levels. The suite had a layout with a completely separate bedroom and living space, so we could close the door to the room where my daughter was sleeping and be able to talk and keep lights on. The extra space overall gave my daughter more room to crawl around than in a standard hotel room. The kitchenette, with its sink, mini-fridge, and microwave, made it easy to do dishes and store bottles or opened jars of baby food.

2. Having someone to help is a lifesaver. There is no way I could have taken any of my trips without help. Most of the time it's been my husband, though we often have had other family and friends helping. On this trip, the main caretaking duties fell to my husband, who was getting over walking pneumonia at the time. He doesn't have a starring role in my posts, but these trips would not be possible without him.

Posted by amikulski 19.06.2014 18:21 Archived in USA Tagged children hotels california Comments (1)

Flashback: Oct. 2009--Lansing/East Lansing, Michigan


View SLRF 2009 on amikulski's travel map.

I'm starting a new category of entries called Flashbacks where I describe some of trips I took with my oldest daughter. The sum of these experiences are what inspired me to start my blog, and I learned some valuable lessons on each trip.

I'll start with the first trip I ever took with my daughter. She, my husband, and I went to Lansing and East Lansing, Michigan when she was 5 1/2 months old--about the age that her little sister is right now. One of the conferences I regularly attend was being held at our alma mater of Michigan State University. When I first heard the announcement, I was still pregnant with my daughter, and I naively thought that this would be a great opportunity for friends and family to see her. The conference was over Halloween weekend, so i was excited about having my daughter celebrate her first one with family...

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and having the chance to see all the fall colors that I missed when I was living in Phoenix.

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Staying with my parents would be homier than a hotel and give me access to baby essentials like a rocking chair and a fridge. I would even have babysitting for when I was at the conference sessions! It all seemed so perfect. I submitted a paper to the conference, had it accepted, and eagerly awaited my first family trip. My daughter learned to sit up a few weeks before the trip, so we also came up with the seemingly brilliant idea to leave the car seat travel system at home, use the folding umbrella stroller at the airport, and rent a car seat from the rental car company.

Fast forward to October: I caught one of the flu strains that wasn't covered by my flu vaccine, which knocked me out for about a week and set me back at work. Normally I go to conferences with my presentations done, but I found myself leaving for this trip just barely having started it. This meant that I had to use every minute where I wasn't already booked to finish it... and there was very little time that I wasn't already booked. If I wasn't at sessions, family and friends were dropping by my parents' house or we were seeing them at their homes. As for renting a car seat, we did end up with one, but getting it was much more difficult than we had imagined (see below).

On top of all that, my daughter, who had been sleeping through the night like a champ for weeks, decided not to sleep in Michigan. Maybe it was the time change, sleeping overnight (not just an occasional nap) in a pack-n-play, or the unfamiliar surroundings in general. Maybe it was all of those things in combination. Either way, she was sleeping about 4 hours a night, and because I was still nursing, I was the often the one to settle her down when she woke up. Even though you'd think that my daughter would have made up for a lack of sleep at night with some longer naps during the day, the opposite happened: she hardly napped at all. Here she fell asleep but woke up as soon as we laid her down.

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As a result, we began a vicious cycle where she--and I--became increasingly overtired. It was not good. I was miserable and exhausted.

Frustrations aside, it was good to see people and have them meet my daughter. It was also my first in a series of lessons learned about traveling with a little one.

Lessons learned:

1. Do not combine personal and professional obligations on your first trip with baby.
This trip sounded like a great 2-for-1 experience in that I could visit home for my work travel, but in reality I was never able to fully enjoy either aspect of the trip. Perhaps I would try it again in the future, but definitely not for my youngest daughter's first trip. It was just too much for me.

2. Things won't always go as planned.
I'll admit it--I knew this before I ever had a child. Still, I mention it because it takes on a whole new level of meaning when you travel with a child. This trip reminded me that the unexpected can pop up in any form, whether it's lack of sleep or a still-unfinished presentation. There's no way to prevent such things from happening, so I guess the best you can do is not book yourself too tightly so that you have some flexibility when these things happen.

3. Beware of car seat rentals.
When you book a rental car online, the reservation is being made by a central reservation office. They don't check to see what is at the specific location where you'll be renting. Our experience was a prime example. We requested an infant seat when we made our reservation online. When we got to the rental office in Detroit, they only had convertible car seats. That was a bit annoying because we had requested an infant seat, but a convertible seat would still work, so we said it was fine. When my husband realized that the seat they gave him couldn't be installed because it was missing a base, they brought out every convertible seat and base they had. None of the seats went with any of the bases. They said that they didn't know this because nobody rents car seats from them. They ended up sending my husband to Walmart to buy a seat. In all, it took about 2 hours before we could get on the road. Even though the rental company paid us for the seat and gave us a discount for the inconvenience, I would have preferred to pay full price with and have the appropriate seat waiting for us. We have since rented a booster seat for my oldest in Italy without any problem, but I will always be a little wary of renting car seats.

Posted by amikulski 13.06.2014 18:32 Archived in USA Tagged children michigan Comments (0)

Catching Up: Where We Stayed: Washington, DC/Bethesda

Bethesda North Marriott

We stayed at this hotel because it was where my husband's work meetings were. It was nice, with the decor and amenities you'd expect of this level of hotel. My daughter and I especially appreciated the complementary fruit-infused water available in the lobby: it was refreshing after being outside in the humid DC weather. The rooms themselves were moderately sized with good natural light, but the bathroom was dim even when all the lights were on.

The hotel is near the White Flint metro station. All you have to do walk past the hotel's large parking lot, cross the street, and you're there; it's about a 5-minute walk with a kid. Once you're on the Metro, it's about a half hour to reach the stops in and around the Mall and about 15 minutes to the stop for the zoo. My daughter was (and still is) a fan of trains, so these trips were not a big deal. However, families who want to easily get back to their room for nap time may find this to be too much. Also, the neighborhood is part of the DC suburban sprawl. There are a couple of eateries within walking distance of the hotel, but not many. Families without a car will have limited food options unless they get back on the Metro or have dinner delivered to the room (the hotel lists some places that do the latter).

There was an indoor pool at the hotel. We never used it, partly because of the odd hours: during the summer, it's open all day Fri-Sun, but it is closed from 10 am - 6 pm Mon. -Thurs. Anyone who travels at other times of the year will find that Fridays join the rest of the weekdays with their limited schedule. I'm not sure why the schedule is this way; maybe the hotel is concerned about noise from the pool area disrupting meetings, but other conference hotels don't need these restrictions. At any rate, the rules might disappoint families who want the option of a midday swim.

Bathroom: shower/tub combo
Blow dryer: yes
Breakfast: Breakfast was not included in our rates. The on-site restaurant serves breakfast, but it is pricey: about $16 a person. However, there is a newsstand/coffee bar at the hotel that serves Starbucks drinks, bottled juices, and some limited breakfast items (pastries, yogurt, fruit). It also has seating nearby so you don't need to take your breakfast back to your room unless you want to. The coffee bar worked well for us. Another option is the McDonalds, which is about a block away from the hotel and also across the street from the Metro.
Elevator: yes
Internet: available for a fee, so we didn't use it.
Nearest playground: not sure
Recommend to families with young kids: It depends on a couple of things. The first is price. From what I have seen online, it seems to vary a lot. At the lower end of the range (say, 89/night), it is a good value for Metro DC. At the upper end (I've seen rates of over 200/night), I think you could find either something cheaper or closer in. The other thing it depends on is the family's schedule. If they want to take midday swims or have a short Metro ride back for nap time, this place is not a good match.
Recommend to people without kids: Again, it depends because of the reasons stated above.
Website: http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/wasbn-bethesda-north-marriott-hotel-and-conference-center/

Posted by amikulski 12.06.2014 18:56 Archived in USA Tagged children hotels washington Comments (0)

Catching up: Washington, DC

semi-overcast 80 °F

I am still in catch-up mode! This entry covers a trip from July 2013. My husband had to work in DC for a couple of days, so my daughter and I tagged along.

We arrived at our hotel in the mid-afternoon, so we decided to take advantage of the opportunity for all of us to do some sightseeing together. It was pretty humid, so we headed for the air-conditioned Museum of Natural History. My daughter enjoyed the various animals.

The animal theme continued the next day, when my daughter and I went to the National Zoo. We started off in the kid/petting zoo section.

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We also stopped for a ride on the carousel.

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We saw most of the zoo before heading back for a much needed nap (I include myself in that need, as I was getting really frustrated by having to remind my daughter to walk and not dip her hands in the ice barrels that hold cold drinks at the concessions stands, but I digress...). Among our favorites were the pandas, orangutans, and gorillas.

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The next day was only a half-day for my husband, and the plan was to leave after his work was done. After packing up and checking out, my daughter and I got an early lunch and headed to the Air and Space Museum. We didn't have the chance to see everything, but she really enjoyed what we did do, including looking at various planes and walking into Skylab. It was a great place to visit on that rainy day.

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We're hoping to get back to DC before too long. We also will be hoping for better listening and better weather!

Posted by amikulski 31.05.2014 18:28 Archived in USA Tagged children museums zoo washington dc Comments (0)

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