On packing light and the car seat question

Baby blanket, burp rags, teething toy, bottles, breast pump, swim diaper, bathing suit, sunglasses, sun hat, two kinds of infant sunscreen, diaper cream, diapers, wipes, changing pad, onesies, footies, sun dresses, pants, T-shirt, shoes, socks, sweater, sweatshirt, coat, baby carrier, travel bassinet, sleep sack, car seat-stroller, pop-up shade tent, mosquito bands, mosquito netting, three types of “natural” mosquito repellent and a 10-day supply of baby food. That is our Mexico trip, in list form.

Traveling internationally with an infant for the first time, I was prepared for challenges and misadventures. I was less prepared for how firmly rooted in my ways I’ve become as a traveler. Having prided myself on mastering the art of packing light, I should have known that schlepping the daunting list of infant must-haves would make me feel like a snail hauling its home. Before having a baby, I imagined one toy, one book, a few outfits, some diapers. What else do they need, I thought.

I had no idea.

During our trip, my husband and I barely managed to make do with three heavy checked bags. Though there were some things we could have done without (we overpacked on clothes, and repellent wasn’t needed, though I didn’t regret bringing it), almost everything else was well used and handy, if not necessary. Some, like the PeaPod — an ultracompact, 3.5-pound shade tent, play pen and travel bed in one — has become indispensable.

As a committed carry-on flier, I’ve been surprised that ditching our luggage at the check-in counter (or, better yet, curbside) has been remarkably liberating. My frequent-flier credit card granted us one free checked bag each, which easily pays for its $90 annual fee. And while the Delta Air Lines baggage policy allows them to charge for luggage for so-called “lap infants” (babies under 2, traveling without a paid seat of their own), on eight flights with my daughter, Roxie, we have yet to be charged for her bag, which doubles as a bassinet. Being a baby, it turns out, has some benefits.

Despite the onslaught of frightening world events, in the weeks leading up to our trip, my biggest safety concern wasn’t Mexico’s drug war or the recent appearance of the Zika virus in the country. It was much more banal: What on earth do we do about a car seat? Our first flight with Roxie, a cross-country trip at 4 months, was during the glorious days of the infant seat, the kind that snaps into a stroller and can be wheeled directly to the plane, where they’re gate-checked free. But by our February trip, Roxie was 8 months old and had graduated to a seat far too large to lug through airports, on buses and in and out of taxis.

After falling into a rabbit hole of online research, our solution was a stroller-car seat combo, the Lilly Gold Sit N Stroll, which looks like a cross between a retro airplane seat and a bumper car with retractable wheels. It’s clunky, but the premise — one multiuse piece of baby gear — was irresistible. Still, I wasn’t about to lay down $340 without first seeing one in action. So I did as any cheapskate of the modern era does: I scoured Craigslist, where I found a heavily worn model for $15. It was battered and ugly, but (mostly) functional. If it lasted only one trip, it would be worth it. And if it solved our problem, we would invest in a new one.

Ultimately, the Sit N Stroll worked better for sitting than for smooth strolling, but it saved me from another oversize piece of gear and that was good enough. Having lost a wheel in the sand in Sayulita, we retired our Craigslist find and, tempted by a sale, splurged on a new one as soon as we got home.