How to take an infant passport photo

You have this beautiful new baby, and now, you’re itching to GO somewhere.  Or maybe you have a wedding to attend. Or a distant relative to visit. Or maybe you live overseas, and you want to take your baby back to your home country to meet the rest of your family.  You’ve looked at flights, vacation schedules, travel advice, and decided to go for it.  Now you just have to get that tiny, floppy, bundle of joy to open her eyes, look straight at the camera, keep her hands out of her face, to take that all-important passport photo.

Wait…what?

All persons on international flights require a passport, which sounds all well and good, until you’re faced with actually getting your infant’s photo taken.  The main requirements are:

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[li_item icon=””]In front of white or off-white background[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Both eyes open[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Neutral facial expression[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Fully facing the camera[/li_item]
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Source: US State Department

It is harder than it appears, especially with really young kids.  Did you know you can take your own passport photo pictures?  I have done this several times, and it is so much easier to do at home than trying to get it done at your local drugstore.  We took Isaac’s passport picture when he was 3 weeks old for a family trip to Spain.  We took Patrick’s picture when he was 6 days old for his Consular Report of Birth Abroad (equivalent of a US birth certificate), and passport.  Liesl was 13 months when we got her passport, so it was a bit easier.  Here are some tips and tricks for taking the getting a decent passport photo of your infant at home:

1.  Cover your changing table in a plain white or off white cover (no print or major texture), or use a sheet as a cover.

2. Place your baby on the changing table.  (I use a changing table because the concave shape of the pad prevents the baby from rolling to one side – thus improving the chance that you’ll get a picture with him looking directly into the camera.)

3.  Stand on a chair and take the picture from above. It helps to take the photo in a well-lit room, so that you don’t have to use a flash.

4.  Go to a Passport photo template website, such as epassportphoto.com, and load your picture.  The online service will help you size the photo to the correct dimensions.  You can choose to download the file for free (to print at your local photo kiosk), or you can have them mail you the photos for a small fee. There are several of these websites available, but we have used ePassportPhoto several times, and have been really happy with the results.

Don’t worry if the picture isn’t great. Kids passports are only valid for 5 years, and by that time, they will look so much different than they do now, no matter how good or bad the picture was.

Above is Isaac’s passport photo from his now-expired passport. (Yes, all my kids had GIANT hands and feet as newborns.)  We had to renew his passport at the US Embassy last year.  Those 5 years went really fast!

10 Tips for Flying with Toddlers

A few weeks ago, I wrote up my 10 tips for traveling with an infant.  Traveling with an infant is great, but flying with toddlers definitely requires that you up your game a bit. They are bigger, louder, more mobile, and more independent.  This list is written with long-haul/international flights in mind, but many of the tips are useful for short trips as well.  For those who will be flying the friendly skies with children ages 9 months – 3 years, here is a list of 10 tips to keep in mind.

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[li_item icon=””]1. Do yourself and your child a favor, buy them their own seat, and bring their car seat along.  I can fly “infant in arms” until the child is about 9 months old, and then I reach my limit. Other people have different opinions, but I have found that after about 9 months, the baby is not as comfortable in my arms for the duration of a long flight.  (Short-haul flights, I can usually tough-it-out until the kid is 2.)  Your car seat must be approved for air travel. We bought the FAA-approved Britax car seat, and it has performed beautifully.  We liked it so much, we now have two of them.[/li_item]
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[li_item icon=””]2.  To carry your car seat, and your kid through the airport, check your stroller and buy one of these.  It’s basically a luggage cart for your car seat.  If your trip is just a one-time thing, beg, borrow or steal one from a friend, but for multiple trips, it is worth the money. You snap the car seat onto it with the LATCH connectors, tilt it back, and pull it through the airport.  It is lightweight, folds flat, and you can store it in the overhead bin, or under the seat. You can also strap your kid into the car seat as you pull it along, but if we have the time, I prefer my kids to walk in the airports. (See #6).[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]3.  Before your trip, go to the dollar store and pick up a few fun toys, games and stickers for the trip.  For our last trip, I bought each child a small pencil bag, and put inside some crayons, colored pencils, and loads of stickers.  I bought each child a new coloring book as well.  When traveling with a toddler, I try to set a “1 toy per 20 minutes” rule.  Meaning, I will get out a new toy every 20 minutes or so, but I will not be the “on-demand” toy factory.  If you expect to be traveling often, make a box of “travel toys”.  Our set of travel toys includes: a set of lacing cards, a set of small dinosaurs, Mini Magna doodle, play-doh, triangular crayons (an ingenious idea – they don’t roll off the tray table!) etc.  The kids know that most of these toys only come out on the plane, and therefore, are more excited to play with them. We also load the iPad with shows they like, and a few games, but most of the time, they want to watch the TV on the airplane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]4.  Buy a set of over-ear headphones for each child. The ones provided by the airlines don’t usually fit little kids’ heads, and ear buds usually bother them. Also, it can be something special to bring out during the flight.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]5.  Bring your own food. MORE THAN YOU THINK WILL BE NECESSARY.  Trying to convince your grumpy, tired 2 year old to eat mystery “chicken mornay” may be a hard sell.  Bring sandwiches that travel easily, such as PB&J.  I bring plenty of small foods, such as cheerios, goldfish, teddy grahams, or box raisins.  The box raisins are super handy because the kids kill a bunch of time trying to fish every last raisin out of the box.  They are also high in fiber, which helps counteract travel-related constipation.  I also bring a few apples and granola bars.  Each child has his or her own water bottle.  We encourage them to drink plenty of water.  Pro-tip:  If traveling with your spouse/partner, split the snacks into two gallon-size ziploc bags, in case you are separated on the plane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]6.  If you have time, let the kids walk in the airport.  This is a handy way to burn off excess energy and get the wiggles out.  It is tempting to strap them into the stroller or carrier, and just get on to the next gate, but then they don’t have any time run about.  If you’re worried about a toddler running off, get a leash/harness, or let them walk part of the way, on the less-crowded concourses.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]7. When you get to your gate, sit close to a window so that they can watch the planes, or off to the side, where there is more space for them to run around (within reason).  If you are fighting jet lag, keep moving.  When we have a layover on an international trip, we try not to sit down too much until we get on the next flight.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]8.  If traveling with your spouse or partner, consider sending one person onto the plane early, with the car seat and carryons (if possible), and then wait until the latest possible moment to board the plane with your child. There is nothing worse than trying to entertain a child while you are still sitting at the gate![/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]9.  Clothing: Dress everyone in easy-on, easy-off, non-fussy clothes.  This is not the time to dress your child in that adorable dress with lace and tulle from your aunt.  If necessary, change into that adorable outfit in the airport bathroom when you get to your destination. I dress my daughter in leggings, t-shirt, cardigan or zip-front sweatshirt.  My sons wear comfortable jeans or athletic pants, t-shirt, zip-front sweatshirt.  Pack each child a full backup outfit, including underwear and socks, in a one-gallon ziploc bag.  Should the worst happen, you just have to reach into your bag, find their ziploc, and take that to the bathroom to change.  You never know when someone might get air sick, or spill an entire orange juice down the front of their clothes.  Pack an extra shirt for yourself as well.  If your child is recently potty trained, have them wear pull-ups.  We flew a week after Liesl was potty trained, and I told her that the pull-ups were her “airplane panties”.  She never had an accident, but it was cheap insurance.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]10.  Be flexible and Have Fun! Set some ground rules, but don’t be afraid to make the trip fun as well.  For example, screen time is really limited at our house, but if Liesl wants to watch Doc McStuffins all.the.way from Dublin to New York, I let her.  They rarely get juice at home, but if they want juice every time the flight attendant offers drinks, juice it is!  If they want to do jumping jacks at the gate, they can.  Or we go out of our way during a layover to find the “really big” planes and watch them take off.[/li_item]

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I find that the kids reflect our attitudes, especially in travel.  When things don’t go as planned, if we treat it as a “Grand Adventure”, they will too.  Travel with kids is a lot of work, but given the choice between traveling with kids, or staying home – I’ll choose travel any day!

10 Tips for Flying with Infants

Terrified of flying the not-so-friendly skies with your infant? Relax – and go for it!  I personally think that, of all the ages and stages I have experienced so far, traveling with infants is the easiest.  They don’t need any toys, they can’t talk back, you don’t have to bring a year’s supply of snacks… I have flown with my kids as young as three weeks old.  I think that the smaller they are, the easier it is.  Here are my tips for a less-stressful experience:

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[li_item icon=””]Check your stroller with your luggage.  I know this sounds counter-intuitive, right?  But it is so much easier to not worry about the stroller until you get to your destination.  No trying to fold a stroller one handed while holding your baby.  No worrying about whether the “gate checked” stroller will actually make it off the gate and onto the plane. Instead, carry your child in an ergo/sling/bjorn or other carrier that you like.   I like the Ergo because it has a zippered pocket in front where I kept my wallet, phone, passports and boarding passes. This will keep your hands free. Since you are flying with an infant, your stroller and car seat should be free to check.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Carry all your diaper bag supplies in a backpack.  That cute diaper bag you love, the one with one strap?  Pack it in your luggage.  It is so much easier to have both hands free, rather than trying to keep your diaper bag on your shoulder.  This is the less fashionable option, but definitely the most workable.  You can always carry your diaper bag or purse  when you get to your destination.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Sit on the row with the airplane bassinet, if possible.  If you are flying on a wide-body aircraft, and flying “infant in arms”, you should call the airline and ask to be seated on the bassinet row, if is available.  The bassinet row is the bulkhead row – sometimes the first row of coach – where you can attach a bassinet. The bassinet is this baby bed that attaches to the wall of the bulkhead, and you can place your child in it, as long as you are at cruising altitude, and everything is going smoothly.  Bring a blanket to put in the bassinet.  It makes a great place to put the baby while you rummage through your bag, stretch your arms, or have a snack. Even if you don’t use the bassinet, the extra space in the bulkhead row is so helpful![/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Wear slip-on shoes. At TSA checkpoints, you are basically on your own. They will help you put everything through the scanner, but they will not hold your baby while you take your shoes off, or anything else. If you have liquid baby items (diaper cream, etc), I usually keep them in their own plastic baggie. So I have one baggie for my stuff, and one baggie for infant stuff.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Nurse, feed, or offer a pacifier during take off and landing. This is a big one. To keep your child’s ears clear, you’ll want to feed him during take off and landing. If you’re not feeding him, definitely use a pacifier. The sucking that they do during feeding will keep their ears clear in the pressure changes. I try to hold off on feeding until we are taxiing to the runway. Bring a nursing cover if that makes you more comfortable, but it is 100% legal to nurse a baby uncovered on an airplane. I have hilarious stories of nursing on an airplane.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Bring disposable changing pad covers. Changing tables on airplanes and in airports can be gross. I pack several of these large disposable changing pad covers. That way, you can just change your baby and wrap everything up in the changing table cover, and toss it into the trash. You can get them at BabiesRUs, Target, BuyBuy Baby, and other places. (I buy them in the US, and bring them back to Ireland!)[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Pack just enough diapers to get you there. It’s tempting to plan for the absolute worst and bring 30 diapers and a full package of wipes with you. I usually bring enough diapers for 24 hours (more for international trips), about 10-12, and a half-used pack of wipes. I buy more diapers and wipes at my final destination. Or better yet – have whomever you are staying with buy diapers and wipes ahead of time! It is the kind of job that people LOVE.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Check the identification requirements. Infants may not need a picture ID for domestic flights, but you may need to bring a copy of the birth certificate. If you are flying internationally, your child must have a passport.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Water and snacks – FOR YOU. Especially if you are nursing, you can get super thirsty and hungry. I always bring a snack like trail mix that has a good mix of carbs and proteins. Luna bars are also good and can take a beating in your carryon. Rather than try to fill up a water bottle after security, I just buy one.[/li_item]
[li_item icon=””]Don’t worry if he starts crying. I know that is easier said than done, but take a few deep breaths and relax. Don’t worry about what everyone else is thinking. You don’t have to see them again anyway. I have traveled multiple times with infants, and not once has one of them cried the entire flight.[/li_item]
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In my experience, the good far outweighs the bad when traveling with kids.  Traveling with kids takes work, but the more you do it, the easier it gets.  I’ll follow-up with posts about flying with older infants and toddlers, and flying with young kids.

Did I miss anything?  Any advice you disagree with?  What tips would you offer?

How Travel Changes You

A few summers ago, we spend a week in Copenhagen.  It was our first vacation as a family of 5, and we stayed in another family’s apartment (via airbnb).  This family also had two young children, so the apartment met our needs perfectly.  We got to experience how the residents of Copenhagen live.  I loved the apartment – light-filled, airy, and simple. It put IKEA to shame! They had several large orchids and I loved how they brought a freshness to the room.  I figured if they could grow orchids in Denmark, surely I could grow them in Ireland.  (Since Denmark and Ireland are at similar latitudes, we get the same long summer days and short, dark winter days.)

Copenhagen
(Baby) Patrick and the Orchids

The apartment had no formal dining room, rather an open kitchen with a long table that served as the dining table and also as additional kitchen prep space. I could go on and on, but you can look for yourself on their airbnb listing:

Copenhagen cosy familyappartment in Frederiksberg

Flat in Frederiksberg, Denmark. Large 134 square meter appartment, with a nice shared garden. In our appartment you will find toys, books, a large dining kitchen with all appliances and a possibility to relax after a long and hectic day as a tourist in Copenhagen. The bathroom … View all listings in Frederiksberg

Soon after we returned to Ireland, we bought some orchids (at IKEA, no less) and moved our long dining room table into our kitchen.  I was amazed at the difference those two simple changes made.  Our orchids flourished, despite my attempts to kill them off, and we enjoy having more space in the kitchen for everyone to hang out, chat, draw, etc.

I share this story, not to convince everyone to run out and buy an orchid, rearrange their kitchen, or take a trip to Denmark, but rather to emphasize how travel changes us.  By changing our environment, we change our perspective.  We see how things could be done differently, and then take those lessons and experiences and apply them to our lives.  We have stayed in apartments via airbnb several times, and each time, we have had a great experience.   It’s easy to stay comfortable at home, with our usual stores, restaurants, schedule, etc. Traveling – near or far – forces us out of our comfort zone.  Staying in someone’s home pushes us further into the local culture.   Just writing about it makes me want to plan another trip!  And my orchids are still living!

Orchids

What to do in Dublin with Kids

Planning a trip to Dublin in the future?  At first the city does not seem to be particularly kid-friendly, but there are plenty of fun activities for the young, and young at heart!

Natural History Museum: Free, near Merrion Square

Natural History Museum Moose

This museum is affectionately called the “dead zoo”.  It has a huge collection of taxidermy animals from all over the world.  Most of the animals are in the large gallery upstairs.  Just park your stroller in the entryway (with all the other strollers) and climb the stairs to the second floor.  It also has clean bathrooms and changing tables, and since the museum is free, there is nothing stopping you from going in just to use the bathroom.

Merrion Square:

One of the five Georgian Squares in Dublin.  Great place for a picnic. It has a brand new playground, the ‘Giant’s Garden’, based on Oscar Wilde’s short story, “The Selfless Giant”.  There are also beautiful planters of flowers and plants from around Ireland all over the square.  The tulips in the late spring are AMAZING! On Sundays, there is an art show around the perimeter of the square.  On Thursdays during the summer, there is a lunchtime market.

National Archaeology Museum:  Free, on Kildare Street.

This is a great museum with lots of interesting stuff to look at.  My kids love this museum – there is a Viking boat, mummified remains of people found in bogs, and lots of interesting items from the prehistoric through medieval periods.

St. Stephen’s Green

St Stephen's Green

Another excellent example of the Dublin Georgian Squares.  It is in the centre of town, making it a convenient midday picnic stop.  The fabulous playground has spaces for little and big kids, and a weatherproof surface, so you can go there even if it recently rained.  There are ducks and swans to feed as well.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral

St Patrick’s Cathedral is an amazing church to tour.  You have to pay for admission, but it’s free for kids. Among other things, you can learn about the Irish phrase to “chance your arm”. Fun Fact: The Catholic Cathedral in Dublin is called the St. Mary’s Pro Cathedral.  “Pro”, as in, provisional.  Apparently the Catholics are still hoping the Anglicans will return St. Patrick’s to them at some point!  There is a beautiful small park next to the church with a new playground, and on the weekends, there is almost always an ice cream vendor in the park.

For families with older kids and teenagers:

In addition to the above activities, these sights are great for older kids.

Book of Kells & Trinity College

Trinity College is definitely on the “must see” list for any Dublin trip.  The Book of Kells is a wonderful exhibit.  You can take the walking tour of Trinity College, which includes your admission to the book of Kells.  Kids are free.  (You can just buy your ticket to see the book, but I think the tour is worth the extra cost.) The tour is a bunch of walking, then standing and listening.  It’s a great tour – but little kids will tire of it quickly.  Older kids will love The Old Library at the end of the Book of Kells exhibit.  It looks like it was taken straight out of a Harry Potter movie. Even if you skip the tour and the Book of Kells, the campus is still open for you to walk around if you wish.

Grafton Street

Worth a stroll.  You can walk from the corner of Trinity College to St. Stephen’s Green on Grafton Street.  There are usually plenty of street performers and musicians.  There is also a mediocre McDonalds and Burger King, in case you have tired of pub grub.

Dublinia & Christchurch Cathedral

Dublinia is an interactive museum about Viking and Medieval Ireland.   Dublinia is lot of fun for kids, especially those ages 7-12.  I recommend buying the combo ticket for Dublinia and Christchurch Cathedral, which is attached via an enclosed bridge. (See photo above!)

Guinness Storehouse Tour

This is pricey, but a great tour of what makes Guinness the iconic beer (and brand) it is today. The tour includes admission to an enclosed, rooftop bar (serving Guinness and non-alcoholic beverages) with 360-degree views of Dublin.  A great stop for older kids or teenagers.  Adults can even learn how to pour their own pint at the tap.