THE TODDLER TRAVEL SURVIVAL GUIDE! How To Travel Internationally With Your Toddler

My 15-month old toddler is proudly collecting her passport stamps. My husband and I LOVE traveling, and we made a pact when we had our baby Nainika that we wouldn’t let parenthood get in the way of our passion. Instead, we chose to expose her to as much travel as possible, because I truly believe that it impacts children in a positive way. I traveled a TON growing up since my parents were expats overseas. I may not have concrete memories of all my trips, but somewhere deep inside me is ingrained an appreciation for culture and adventure that was planted at an incredibly young and impressionable age.

We get lots of questions about how we manage traveling internationally, and my number one most important tip is:

HAVE
A
POSITIVE
MINDSET.

It’s going to be a lot of hard work and you’ll have to deal with some truly tough moments, but just keep reminding yourself why traveling as a family unit is important to you. If you begin your journey with a negative, stressed out attitude, then your experience will likely just be that. The key is to be positive and just recognize that this is going to be a different type of trip than past solo adventures and you will have different things to appreciate. If you focus on cultivating a positive mindset, then your child will imbibe that same energy. A sense of humor helps too! You’ll need it to stay calm during all those blowouts and meltdowns. ūüôā

#2 most important tip: DO NOT OVERTHINK IT.

Parenting in this time and age is truly a blessing and a curse. We are exposed to a plethora of information in the form of books, blogs, online forums, social media, parental networks, etc. that can be immensely helpful. At the same time, it’s information overload. My parents didn’t research this stuff as heavily as we do today, and they were just fine. It’s important to be prepared of course, but do you need to buy every single travel-friendly product and toy out there? No. Sometimes the less you do, the more relaxed and ‘go with the flow’ you’ll be, which is the exact attitude you need to survive on a trip with toddler.

That said, here are some practical tips that have worked for OUR child on some of our past travels. She has traveled to Paris at three months, Western Canada at six months, and Sicily at 15 months with various domestic trips in between, and these tips have worked well for us. Of course every child is different and has unique needs, but hopefully this is a helpful guide for planning your own successful family adventures!

PLANNING

  • RENT AN APARTMENT: We’ve gone both the apartment and hotel route, and renting an apartment is so much easier when traveling with a baby or toddler. Whether you use Airbnb, HomeAway, or Vrbo, you can find affordable places with a kitchenette (extremely important for us since our toddler has allergies), second bedroom/and or living room area for chilling when the baby is asleep, high chair, and a crib. You will be spending a lot of time in your apartment, so makes sure it’s comfortable and roomy. Having a balcony is a HUGE asset so that you can feel like you’re outdoors while your toddler is napping or sleeping!
  • THINK THROUGH FLIGHT TIMES: When traveling internationally, it’s really helpful to book an overnight flight. We’ve done both overnight and daytime flights, and the second can TRULY be painful when your toddler is active and awake and just wants to walk around and explore the plane.
  • PICK YOUR TRAVEL DESTINATION WISELY: Sometimes this isn’t in our control if we’re traveling for a family wedding or pre-determined vacation. However, if you can, pick your destination with your toddler mind. Traveling east is always easier from a time zone perspective, because it’s not the end of the world if your toddler sleeps and wakes up later than usual. When we took Nainika to Sicily for example, she just went to sleep around midnight and slept in till 11 am which enabled us to go out for some late dinners and drinks. Keeping her as close to her normal schedule made it so much easier for us to transition when we were home! Traveling to California from Chicago was a challenge, because Nainika would be sleepy by 5 pm and wake up by 5 am. Not fun.
  • PACK EFFICIENTLY: We love using packing cubes for Nainika’s stuff, because it keeps her tiny clothes altogether in one place — we usually do jammies in one, daytime outfits in another, accessories/socks in another, etc. Also, please be practical. I know there are a zillion adorable little dresses or outfits that you want to pack for your toddler on vacation, but they will likely just be in comfy long sleeves and pants to protect them from sun exposure when you’re out and about. Just pack 2-3 impractical dresses/outfits so you can capture those priceless pictures, and be sensible about the rest. But DO pack an extra outfit per day to account for messes. Other important items to pack:
    • Sanitizing wipes for airport/on flight diaper changes
    • Travel-sized noise machine
    • Crib sheets
    • Medicines/thermometers/diaper cream
    • Tupperware (super helpful if you’re taking food for your toddler to restaurants)
    • Sunscreen, sunhat
    • Bath towel and bath soap
    • Enough diapers and wipes to last a couple days, in case your luggage doesn’t make it on time (speaking from experience)
    • Sippy cups, bottles, and formula (for when milk isn’t easily accessible)
  • BUY A TRAVEL STROLLER, DITCH THE CARSEAT: The travel stroller is a must. No need to carry around your bulky American stroller in narrow foreign alleyways! We purchased the Summer Infant 3D Lite Convenience Stroller and it works just fine. It’s lightweight, easy to maneuver with one hand, and does well on cobblestone. Yes, there are probably better, more expensive options but when we’re lugging it around the globe, it doesn’t make sense to invest a ton. As for the carseat, unless you’re planning a road trip or in a country where safe carseats are not easily available for rent, then there’s really no need to lug around a carseat. The lighter you travel, the happier you’ll be.

AIR TRAVEL

  • BULKHEAD ROW BULKHEAD ROW BULKHEAD ROW! Call ahead or show up to the airport three hours early to try to get the bulkhead row. This is sooo key when you’re traveling with a toddler. It gives you the extra room that you’ll need, and a bassinet if your child can still fit in it. If you call ahead they may make you pay extra, but we’ve usually had luck just showing up early to the airport. We got extremely unlucky one time when there were like 15 babies on the plane and we did not get the bulkhead row or bassinet…so just depends on whether you want to risk it! Same goes with purchasing an extra seat. If you’re risk averse and would rather spend the extra money for a seat, then do it. I’d rather save and hope the bulkhead row or an extra seat opens up!
  • PACK SNACKS, BUT DON’T STRESS ABOUT TOYS: You will need snacks. Lots of them. Especially if your child has any allergies, it’s always safer just to pack a bunch of snacks to keep them distracted and entertained. Don’t go crazy with toys though — just 3-4 new toys is perfect for keeping them busy, but they will more likely be excited about people watching and being in a new environment!
  • DON’T FEEL GUILTY ABOUT SCREEN TIME: This is a tough one for me, because I whip out my phone/iPad pretty often when we’re traveling and feel super guilty about it. But you gotta do what you gotta do. I got a free one month YouTube premium trial before our Sicily trip which was a genius move…I just saved a bunch of Nainika’s favorite videos for offline use and would use them to distract her whenever she was about to have a meltdown. Worked like a charm every time.
  • USE A BABY CARRIER IF IT WORKS FOR YOU: Everyone told us to use a baby carrier when traveling so you can be hands free. We love our LILLEbaby carrier, but we never really used it prior to our trips..big mistake. I do recommend bringing a carrier (especially if you plan on hiking, etc.) but just make sure you and your toddler are comfortable using it beforehand. We only used it once or twice on our trips, and I just wish we had prepared more beforehand to get more use out of it!
  • SLEEPING HACKS: First and foremost — let your child run around as much as possible prior to the flight to tire them out. On the flight, I try to create the same bedtime environment that we do at home when it’s time to sleep. This means lullabies, a bottle, her favorite stuffed elephant, and putting on a sleep sack. They get easily distracted on the plane, so try to hang a blanket as a canopy over your seat to eliminate as much lighting as possible. Getting a toddler to sleep on the plane is not the easiest thing in the world, but just stay calm — they will eventually fall asleep! If a carrier works for you, try taking him/her to a quiet part of the plane and rocking them to sleep. Just stay calm ūüôā

ON LOCATION

  • JETLAG: There’s no magical cure for jetlag even for adults. Depending on where you’re traveling to and for how long, it might not make sense adjusting your child to the new schedule right away. When we’re in Europe for example, we just stick to our regular schedules and have later bedtimes and wake times. Works great for us since we like doing late dinners and sleeping in on vacation anyway! If you’re staying somewhere for a longer period of time and need to adjust, then make sure to get your child out and active in the sunlight during the day so they’re worn out in the evening. This might mean missing a nap to get them tired earlier and that’s OKAY. Their schedules are not going to be perfect and it may take a couple days to get them adjusted.
  • DO NOT OVERSCHEDULE: Our strategy for managing toddler travel itineraries is to schedule just ONE activity/sight per day (excluding meals, of course). You are not going to be able to cram in multiple sights with your toddler, so don’t stretch yourselves. The struggle with toddlers is that they need plenty of time to run around and release energy. They also need to nap! One sight per day gives you the flexibilty you need to run back home for naps, relax at restaurants, and give your kid time to run around in town squares. This is why we usually just go to one place when traveling with Nainika, so that we can feel relaxed and give ourselves plenty of time to see everything we want. And make sure to scope out parks and playgrounds! This is their vacation too, but they will likely just be as happy people-watching and being in a new environment.
  • SLEEP SCHEDULES: If you’re able to stick to your child’s regular schedule when on vacation, then I applaud you. We try to stick to Nainika’s two naps as much as possible, but this usually doesn’t happen. As long as we could squeeze in one solid nap at our Airbnb, then everyone’s happy. My advice is to get out the door as soon as everyone’s up in the morning and explore until you see tired signs from your toddler. Then head back to your apartment/hotel and let your child nap or relax. Sometimes they’re so wired up that they won’t be able to nap, but just giving them some downtime in a quiet place can be enough to get them rewired for any evening plans you may have. Try to get their room as dark as possible and turn up the white machine during naptimes and bedtimes. They will likely take longer to sleep in the new environment – if they’re sleep-trained, try CIO for at least 15-20 minutes (but check up on them often). I’m always guilty of bringing my toddler into bed with me when on vacation, but if I stay strong and let her cry it out, she DOES fall asleep in her crib.
  • DINING OUT: This is usually the highlight of our trips, so we don’t skimp on dining out even with our toddler. That said, you have to be smart about it. Don’t schedule a late reservation at a fancy schmancy Michelin star restaurant — it will make you and everyone around you uncomfortable. My advice is to schedule an early reservation, eat al fresco if you can (everyone’s louder outdoors!), bring toys/snacks, and don’t feel guilty about screentime. And if you’re in Italy, you can do whatever you want, because everyone is BABY OBSESSED and your waiters will be entertaining your child for you ūüôā

So there you have it — my most important tips for surviving international toddler travel! Stay calm, be patient, and enjoy the beautiful moments. There’s nothing more amazing than seeing the world through your child’s eyes.

I tried to cover as many different areas as possible, but there are obviously a zillion different things to consider, so just drop me a comment if you have any specific questions. And don’t forget that every child is unique and you know his or her needs best, so take these tips as guidelines. I’d also love to hear what your most important travel tip is in the comments section too!

Food Guide: What We Ate in Taormina, Sicily

My husband, daughter and I just returned from a glorious weeklong escape to Taormina, Sicily where we gorged on some of the best cuisine we have ever tasted in our lives. I have never felt such intense sadness as we did on our very last evening in Sicily, when we realized that this would be our last chance to devour fresh seafood carpaccio while sipping on an Aperol Spritz (interchangeable with a Sicilian house wine), followed by some sort of crazy delicious homemade pasta and a streetside cannoli.

Taormina is a dream that exceeded my expectations. To be perfectly honest, we weren’t sure what to expect, since Sicily isn’t as popular (to American tourists) as mainland Italy. We had such amazing food memories from our trip to Italy a few years ago, that we really just wanted to go someplace we could feast on MORE pasta, sit by the ocean, and drink endless bottles of wine. We dabbled between Portugal and Croatia, and ultimately picked Taormina, Sicily based on a friend’s recommendation. Since we were traveling with our toddler, it wasn’t realistic to travel to multiple locations, so Taormina was the perfect baby-friendly hub for us just to relax, take in the Mediterranean vibes and do some (very) light sight-seeing while feasting on Sicilian food. In case you missed it, we tend to be food-centric travelers. ūüôā We would have loved to travel to other towns in Sicily, but it made more sense for us to stay put in one place to allow ourselves to truly relax and enjoy THESE views…

Views from the Greek Theatre, one of the main attractions in Taormina 

We picked a beautiful (and so affordable compared to the Amalfi Coast!) apartment rental overlooking Mt. Etna and the Ionian Sea, just a five-minute walk from the main, pedestrian-only street Corso Umberto. The main street tends to get very touristy and packed during the day, but is absolutely magical at night. The best part about jet lag was that we would sleep in late (including our little lady!!), and then head out for a late lunch, afternoon stroll/sight-seeing, nap time for the babe, then a late dinner & drinks when the streets were quieter.

Sunrise from our private garden terrace at the Schuler Residence

Taormina during the day, packed with tourists strolling around and enjoying the various boutiques and restaurants

Stunning views from the Public Gardens 

THE FOOD GUIDE

There are obviously PLENTY more restaurant options than what’s on this list below, but these are some of our favorite spots based on our weeklong foodventuring. I really hope you get a chance to visit the gorgeous hilltop town of Taormina and visit some of these restaurants. It’s truly such a beautiful blend of Greek, Arab, and Italian influences and the sea views just CANNOT be beat.

GRANDUCA
http://www.ristorantegranduca.it/

We literally stumbled on a sign of Granduca while walking along Corso Umberto, followed a narrow staircase downstairs expecting a little pizza joint and found ourselves instead in a beautiful restaurant with a spectacular verandah overlooking the Ionian Sea. I would go here for the views alone, but the food was INCREDIBLE. We had a simple eggplant parmesan, linguine vongole, and the “Granduca” pizza which is HANDS down some of the best pizza I have ever had in my life. Smoked salmon and truffle and cherry tomatoes…I seriously regret not coming back here for round two because the food was as spectacular as the view. I’m a pasta lover, but come here for lunch and order the pizza. You will not be disappointed.

DA CRISTINA
https://rosticceriadacristina.com/ 

This is a popular little takeaway joint right off the main street with some seriously delicious food. There’s a pasta/hot foods section, and a pizza & arancini joint right next door with the same owner. You order at the counter and then sit either indoors and outdoors while the cooks whip up your dish in less than ten minutes. SO simple but SO FREAKIN’ GOOD. We ordered the Pasta alla Norma, a traditional Sicilian dish with tomato and eggplant sauce, more linguine vongole, and tiramisu on our first trip. I’m normally not a tomato sauce girl, but there’s just something about the tomatoes (AND the eggplant) in Europe that is so sweet and incredibly flavorful. We came back on our last day to check out the pizza joint and were not disappointed with the eggplant pizza and prosciutto arancini. Drooling just thinking about this place.

ARCO DEI CAPPUCCINI
https://ristorantearcodeicappuccini.com/ 

We checked out Arco Dei Cappuccini on our very first day in town after reading that this was a popular spot with the locals. It’s pricey, but worth it for its fresh seafood. This was where we had our first taste of traditional Sicilian seafood carpaccio and let me just tell you – I don’t know how I lived my life before eating raw shrimp and langoustine. It has the most buttery, sweet, delightful taste in the world and you HAVE TO TRY IT when you’re in Sicily. The lobster pasta was also delightful and the tiramisu was to die for. The service was also wonderful, which I have to say was the case for every single one of these restaurants. Everyone was so sweet and loving and playful with our daughter, and it made for such a relaxing experience for us as parents.

OSTERIA ROSSODIVINO
http://www.osteria-rosso-divino.com/

This was one of the restaurants that kept popping up as a top recommendation in my research, so I made a dinner reservation ahead of time. It’s tucked away in a quieter part of town with a beautiful garden patio. The food is slightly more modern and inventive than your traditional down home Italian cooking. While this usually raises a red flag for me, we loved the food here – especially the delicious pasta with fresh zucchini flowers and shrimp. Beautiful and tasty. The veal was good too, but I’d err on the side of ordering seafood over meat while in Sicily. There’s just SO much good seafood to be had here!

DA GIOVANNI
https://www.viamichelin.com/web/Restaurant/MAZZARO-98030-Da_Giovanni-3cbq3xo 

This is another restaurant that we just stumbled upon after taking the cable car down to the beach to check out Isola Bella. We were disappointed to find that there was a long flight of stairs to access the beach and couldn’t take our stroller all the way down there. So instead, we popped into the first restaurant we saw located by the flight of stairs and were blown away by the view of Isola Bella. The food was fantastic too – we just had some simple fried seafood and pasta and it completely hit the spot. I don’t think you can really go wrong with any of these beachside restaurants, but I’m really glad we checked this one out. I discovered later that this one is on the Michelin Guide!

TRATTORIA TIRAMISU
https://trattoriatiramisu.it/ 

This adorable little trattoria was located right by our apartment rental and was always bustling with diners every night, so we knew we had to check it out. It was amazing, and probably offered my favorite seafood carpaccio of the entire trip (and trust me, we tried a few different ones). The lobster pasta was absolutely divine and the desserts were exquisite. The place is known for its tiramisu (duh), which was incredible, but the pistachio panna cotta was absolutely divine as well. My husband almost went back there on our last night just to try the panna cotta again.

OSTERIA NERO D’AVOLA
https://www.yelp.com/biz/osteria-nero-d-avola-taormina 

This beautiful Michelin star restaurant also came highly recommended from tourists and locals alike. While it wasn’t my favorite meal, I would still recommend it for some great dishes, wine selection and a lovely outdoor patio. Perfect for date night. We sampled the eggplant parm, sea urchin pasta (frozen, not fresh – but still tasty!), Sicilian ragu, and a delightful panna cotta.

So there you have it – our favorite eats in Taormina! Other notable highlights include pizza at Villa Zuccaro, drinking almond wine at Bar Turrisi in Castelmola, and the amazing live music and grappa at Cafe Wunderbar every night. They say Taormina can be done in three or four days, but we truly enjoyed spending the whole week there and enjoying all its little gems. We could have easily spent another three days there!

Hope you enjoyed this post and leave me comments/questions if you’re planning a trip to Taormina. Much love ‚̧

Park City From the Eyes of a Non-Skier

Hello, world. I’m back from my non-blogging slumber, though I can assure you I’ve been¬†very¬†busy in the real world, mostly chasing around my baby girl¬†TODDLER, setting up our new home which we finally moved into in December, and navigating the world of suburbia, which is a brand new adventure for me. It’s been a busy, stressful, confusing, transitional time, but at the end of the day, I feel a sense of peace and gratitude that I haven’t felt in my life in a very long time. It’s truly wonderful.

Of course it’s not always rainbows and butterflies. Life as the mama to a very active toddler is chaotic and exhausting on many levels, which is why my husband and I try to prioritize some solo time when we can. We just got back from a lovely little couples getaway to Park City sans-baby (thank you, supergrandparents!), and I feel so refreshed and rejuvenated to be back home to my usual routine after four days of pure R&R. My hubby has been BEGGING me to go on a ski trip the last several years and I finally obliged, though frankly I’m terrified of skiing. Luckily one of our couple friends were in the same boat (he skis, she does not), so we booked the trip, seeking comfort in the fact that I would have¬†someone¬†to socialize with while the boys were on the slopes all day.

Park City did not disappoint. The skiing is phenomenal of course, but there are¬†plenty of other things you can do in case you get tired on the bunny hill after thirty minutes (I’ve heard this is possible if you a) have zero experience and b) are a total chicken and have a deathly fear of heights). Here are a few non-ski related activities you can enjoy:

1. GO SNOWMOBILING! On the last day of our trip, we decided to book a guided snowmobiling tour with Summit Meadows, a company operated out of Garff Ranch. The company handled pickup, drop-off, helmet rentals, and offered a two-hour guided tour through beautiful snowy meadows with spectacular views of the Wasatch Mountains. Since I didn’t get past the bunny hills when attempting to ski, this was a great way to take in the views that I had missed out on. Perfect snow adventure if you’re not able to ski!

2. PAMPER YOURSELF WITH A SPA DAY. This one is a given. If you’re going on a ski trip, you simply have to treat yourself to a massage and escape from the snowy terrains for a bit. We loved the services at¬†Aura Spa¬†located right on Main Street–much more affordable than the fancy resorts, so we were able to squeeze in a two-hour massage¬†and¬†a facial. PURE bliss. Our Airbnb also had a private hot tub in it which added to our heavenly relaxation experience ūüôā

3. BLOODY MARYS & APRES SKI AT THE ST. REGIS.¬†We’ve all seen those drool-worthy Instas of fabulous skiers enjoying shot skis, poppin’ champagne bottles, and chugging beer after a tough day on the slopes. Apres-ski is simply the best, and doing it at the St. Regis Deer Valley just feels so luxurious (and less fratty). Sit outside by the fire and order one of their signature Bloody Marys. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

 

4. EXPLORE MAIN STREET.¬†The heart of Park City is as cute and charming as you would expect a ski town to be. You can spend hours just walking around Main Street exploring art galleries, breweries, gift shops, and taking a hot cocoa break whenever you please. The nightlife on Main Street is also fantastic – we went to The Spur for a spontaneous night of dancing on a Friday night and O.P. Rockwell¬†for some AMAZING live funk/90s hip hop music on Saturday night. We weren’t really expecting to party in Park City, so the nightlife was a pleasant surprise. The chic speakeasy O.P. Rockwell (pictured below) was especially great!

5. EAT!¬†Park City is home to some really great (although pricey) cuisine. Whether it’s the resort turkey chili or gourmet Italian food, there’s a little something for everyone. Plan ahead and make reservations, especially for some of the more popular restaurants on Main Street.

Duck Enchiladas at Chimayo – such a unique and delicious dish

Turkey Chili at Deer Valley – so cozy and perfect for apres-ski

Amazing Italian fare at Grappa – my favorite meal!

Grub Steak Restaurant – casual vibes, live music, and your standard steak

Mushroom, Avocado and Ricotta Toast at Harvest, an adorable little Aussie-owned brunch spot

 

Parisian Foodventures: My Top 5 Meals!

If you’ve been following me on the ‘gram, then you know that I just got back from an INCREDIBLE weeklong trip to Paris with my little family–yes, including the baby in tow! Most people thought we were absolutely bonkers to travel to Europe with a newborn who’s not even three months old, but it was so, so worth it. It was a LOT of work, but also tons and tons of fun. I’ll do another post on tips for traveling with an infant in Paris, so stay tuned ūüôā

For this post though, I want to focus entirely on FOOD. We spent seven nights in Paris staying in the trendy Le Marais neighborhood, and it was so wonderful staying put in one place. Pre-baby, our international trips always consisted of multiple cities with jam-packed itineraries and daily restaurant reservations. This time around, traveling with a baby forced us to slooow down, space out our sight-seeing, and leave lots of room for spontaneous breaks at those darling French cafes people-watching for hours. Yes, it was as delightful as it sounds.

We made a few restaurant reservations ahead of time (a must for most Parisian restaurants!), and made sure to mention that we were with a newborn baby who would be in her carseat sleeping. Because she’s so young, we were able to get away with a few tasting menus, but still opted for more casual vs. stuffy/fancy restaurants. That’s more our style anyway! We had an amazing mix of meals during our stay in Paris – from modern French tasting menus, to delicious North African cuisine, to mouthwatering Italian food, and of course those fantastic pastries. I don’t think there was a single meal that I didn’t enjoy, but here are my top five FAVORITE meals that we enjoyed during our time in Paris.

*Disclaimer: There are obviously a zillion other restaurants in Paris, and we selected places that were convenient for us to visit with a newborn baby, but hopefully this is still helpful in your trip planning! Oh, and tip for eating out in Paris with a baby–make an early reservation (most places open at 7 or 7:30 pm) so that you can get in and out before it gets too busy. Some places might get cranky if you show up with a carseat + stroller (mostly because Parisian restaurants are tiny), but we were so pleasantly surprised with how friendly and accommodating each of the below places were.¬†

1. LA BOURSE ET LA VIE
http://www.labourselavie.com/en/  

My carnivorous hubby was obviously on the hunt for the best steak-frites in Paris, which is how we ended up at La Bourse et La Vie, a modern (and slightly Americanized) take on a traditional French bistro. With super minimalistic decor, and an uber-cool wait staff, we were in for a stellar meal. I’m so glad we found this place, because I’m still dreaming about that¬†incredible¬†rare steak au poivre with thick, crispy potatoes cooked to perfection. We split one steak, which was probably for the best, but I kiiiinda wish I devoured one on my own. So. good.

2. LES ENFANTS ROUGES
https://www.les-enfants-rouges.fr/ 

Les Enfants Rouges was probably THE most convenient restaurant we went to in Paris, because it was located right next to our Airbnb. It was also just an incredible meal. A tiny restaurant located in a side street of Le Marais with a Japanese chef, Les Enfants Rouges was exactly the type of modern inventive French food we were craving for our very first dinner in Paris. We opted for the six-course tasting menu, and our super sweet waitress who had just moved to Paris from Tokyo (and was juggling three different languages) happily described each of our dishes in English. French, with a touch of Asian influence. Our favorite dishes included a beautiful beef & mushroom dish and a mouthwatering molten chocolate dessert with pistachio ice cream.

3. COME A CASA
http://comeacasa7.tumblr.com/

It’s tough competition, but this might have been my favorite meal of all, just because the restaurant was SO ME. I live for tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurants that make you feel like you’re inside someone’s living room, and that’s exactly what Come a Casa is. It’s a tiny place in a very residential neighborhood owned by an Italian couple that changes the menu daily. Oh, and there’s only like three things on the menu. And everything is simple, fresh, and exquisitely delicious. We sat outside, drank lots of wine, and ate to our heart’s content. Big thanks to my friend Kat (a former Parisian) who recommended this very special place to us!

 

4. EAST MAMMA
https://www.bigmammagroup.com/fr/trattorias/east-mamma 

We were severely depressed on our last night in Paris and had no idea where to go. We wanted to go someplace casual, and I was craving another Italian meal because well, what’s new. I always want Italian. Kat had told me to visit one of the restaurants from the popular ‘Big Mamma’ restaurants so I mapped out whichever one was closest to our Airbnb. So that’s how we ended up waiting in line for East Mamma to open its doors at 7 pm on a Saturday night. Pretty much everyone in the line was speaking in French, which is how I knew we were in for an amazing meal. And boy, did it deliver. We were quickly seated outside, ordered the truffle pasta and a truffle pizza, and…died and went to heaven. To top it off, we polished off a pistachio creme brulee that might have been even better than a Pierre Herme macaron. And that’s saying a LOT.

5. SEMILLA
https://www.semillaparis.com/en 

Semilla is one of those trendy Parisian restaurants that just oozes French sophistication. The local patrons there are impeccably dressed, and the waitresses are just-friendly-enough to still be cool. When we asked for the tasting menu, they warned us that our baby might not last the two and a half hours (…their polite way of saying, please eat quickly) but I’m glad we insisted on it anyway. And our little one thankfully slept through the entire dinner! I loved my meal here–it felt more clean and refined than the modern French cuisine at Les Enfants Rouges, but perhaps with a little less heart. I’d still recommend Semilla for the overall ambience and really, really good food. The sole fish with tons and tons of butter was DIVINE.

Baby’s First Vacation: Portland, ME & Boston

Will time. please. SLOW. down?! I cannot believe that my baby girl is almost three months and that I only have¬†two¬†more weeks of maternity leave left. Cue tears now. I know it sounds cliched, but the past two and a half months have been the most challenging, yet gratifying and beautiful moments of my life. Time is SO relative – when I think about how long I’ve been away from work, my job feels like a distant memory, but when I think about how much time I’ve spent with the little one, it feels like a mere second. There are so many little projects I hoped to accomplish during maternity leave – baby photo books, finally getting my wedding albums together, blogging about motherhood…but of course none of it happened in the midst of all the newborn baby tantrums, diaper changes, and cuddle time.

One thing that my husband and I did prioritize during this time was travel! Everyone told us that the younger the baby, the easier it is to take them on a plane so we made sure to squeeze in at least two vacations during my maternity leave. We spent a week up in New England, road tripping from Boston up to Portland, Maine, and I’m shocked by how easy it was traveling with our baby! She was a little over two months at the time, so she slept like a champ. Slept through flights, car rides, and even fancy dinners. We’re headed to Europe this weekend (!), so will have to revert back with how that longer international journey goes…

Anyways, I wanted to share some of the delicious meals that we enjoyed in Portland. I was super excited to check out this little town by the water because of its reputation as a foodie paradise. It was the perfect little getaway from Boston for three days. Even though it was still fairly cold in mid-April, we had a great time bundling up the baby and walking through the little cobblestoned streets and enjoying some really fantastic food. The weather probably worked in our favor, because it wasn’t as crowded and touristy as I imagine it is during the summer months. The best part about our stay was that all these great restaurants were concentrated within just a 10-15 minute walk from our hotel (Portland Harbor Hotel) in the Old Port District. Made our lives so much easier with the little one!

Fore Street
http://www.forestreet.biz/

Maine is known for its farm-to-table restaurants, and Fore Street is the very original one that put Portland on the culinary map. I loved the ambience at this super rustic and romantic restaurant with a wood-burning oven in an open kitchen. So cozy! And the meal did not disappoint…a tagliatelle with fresh pesto appetizer, a cold seafood platter, fried shad roe (not pictured, but actually a Bengali delicacy as well!), and some of the best chicken I’ve ever had. Everything was very simply, but elegantly prepared with the freshest of ingredients. YUM!

Eventide Oyster Co.
http://www.eventideoysterco.com/

Literally everyone we spoke to said we HAD to visit Eventide Oyster Co. for the best lobster roll of their lives. And they were right. This was hands down our favorite meal of the trip! Since Eventide doesn’t take reservations, we were lucky to snag a communal table right away since it was off-season and on a weekday. We ordered their famous brown butter lobster roll (unique because it’s on a bao instead of a traditional roll), a fried oyster bun (just as good as the lobster roll!), chowder, and oysters on oysters on oysters. Amazing.

Js Oyster
http://jsoysterportland.com/menu/

Js is the type of place you’d see featured on Anthony Bourdain – grungy & dark with friendly locals with strong accents chatting up the dinner patrons. This wasn’t my favorite meal, but we did enjoy our lobster dinner with steamed clams, which is something neither of us had tried before! And the view by the water was beautiful.

Duckfat
http://duckfat.com/ 

Duckfat is another lunch spot that came highly recommended to us from literally everyone we inquired. It was nice to take a break from seafood on our last day in Portland before driving back to Boston. Duckfat’s a tiny little sandwich shop that’s known for their Belgian-style fries fried in duck fat. The fries, with truffle ketchup and Thai chili mayo, were INCREDIBLE and I could’ve had an entire meal of just those fries. We DEVOURED them, which is why I forgot to get a picture. Oops. For sandwiches, we split the Overnight Duck Confit and House Smoked Brisket. Heavy, but delicious. A great way to end the trip!

Southeast Asian Adventures II: Angkor Wat

If you haven’t read part I of my Southeast Asian adventures post, make sure to check it out here first.

Part II: 

Our whole trip to Southeast Asia was such a surreal and incredible adventure, I’m still not over it. My only regret is not spending more time in Cambodia, which in a mere 24 hours, completely stole (and broke) our hearts. There is so much to say about the strength and grit of the Cambodians, and I’d really love to spend a longer time learning more about this beautiful and resilient country. While things in the United States were sort of unraveling while we were away, being in Cambodia gave us a lot of perspective and taught us so much about acceptance, diversity, and generosity of heart.

Even though we weren’t in Cambodia for long, I’m so very glad that we got to spend a day at the awe-inspiring temples of Angkor, beginning at sunrise. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, with Hindu and Buddhist influences. The various temples in the complex have been damaged and deteriorated over the years, but you can still get a¬†sense of the incredible art and architecture. Some parts of the temple have literally been taken over by trees and plant overgrowth, and somehow this intersection of nature & religion just makes Angkor Wat even more magical. Here are just a few of my favorite pictures.

Angkor Wat at sunrise. Even though we didn’t get the clearest sunrise, there was something so spiritual about marching into the complex along with hundreds¬†of other tourists vying for the best sunrise spot. We weren’t alone by any means, but I’ve never felt so serene and at peace.

 

Tales of daily life on temple walls


The Bayon temple, with morning light shining on the spectacular faces of past kings, was my absolute favorite. Unbelievably beautiful. 

The Tomb Raider temples! Nature crawling its way through temple ruins. 

Thank you, Cambodia. We’ll be back!¬†

Southeast Asian Adventures: Thailand

Thailand & Angkor Wat in Cambodia have been on my bucket list for¬†years¬†now. I spent a good chunk of my adolescent years growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia and did an internship during college in Kuala Lumpur. I’m completely obsessed with Southeast Asian culture – the food, the rich history, the people, the weather, the¬†energy¬†is just all so ridiculously amazing. I’ve been blessed to live in many cities around the world – eight to be exact – and nowhere else in the world have I met such genuinely warm, hospitable, loving and generous people. Southeast Asia is just mesmerizing, and I’ve been dying to explore more of it.

I finally had the chance to experience Thailand & Cambodia last month and I’m so happy that my trip reaffirmed my love for the region. I was worried that Thailand would be too touristy and¬†overrun by Full Moon party-seeking backpackers, but it truly did not disappoint. Sure, there are parts of Thailand that can be crazy touristy,¬†but there are so many different experiences that you can choose to have in this diverse country. We began our trip in bustling Bangkok (which for some reason gets a bad rep for being too busy and overwhelming, but I loved it); continued onwards to the lush, beautiful, boho-chic Chiang Mai; spent three days soaking up the sea and sunshine¬†in Krabi; and ended our trip taking in the unbelievably magical Angkor temples of Siem Reap.

Here are some of my favorite pictures from the Thailand leg of the trip РAngkor Wat will have its own post soon!

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Sunset over magnificent Bangkok from Lebua at State Tower (of Hangover 2 fame) – definitely one of the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever stayed at! Beautiful balconies and views.¬†

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Day 1: Exploring Bangkok’s Chatuchak (weekend) market which was such a fun experience. We spent hours walking around the different souvenir, food, and clothing stalls, completely mesmerized by all the beautiful antiques and souvenirs. We had to buy an extra suitcase¬†for all the souvenirs we bought home!

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The Grand Palace Рa must see when in Bangkok. It was hot and incredibly crowded, but beautiful nonetheless. 

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Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha

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We stayed at the Khum Phaya Resort & Spa in Chiang Mai, which was a bit far from the old city and the tourist attractions but such a gorgeous sanctuary. I mean, just look at all that greenery. This was our breakfast view for four days straight. HEAVEN! 

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One of our most memorable experiences in Chiang Mai was a cooking class, where we made a delicious assortment of fresh Thai dishes. It was so much fun grinding up all the spices and making all the food from scratch!

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Another experience I will never forget: playing with elephants at Chai Lai Orchid, an elephant sanctuary that also serves as a social business with a mission to serve women at risk of human trafficking. A one-day trip included a three hour hike (more like a leisurely walk) through the jungle, bamboo rafting, feeding elephants, riding elephants bareback, and bathing a baby elephant in the river. Yes, it was as fun and surreal as it sounds. I was squealing the entire time. 

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Such a precious moment! 

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Meeting the grandmama of the sanctuary ‚̧ She was so sweet and gentle.¬†

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If you’re too scared to try street food in Thailand, you’re seriously missing out. We only had one ‘nice’ sit down meal on our whole trip, because we were determined to eat our way through all of Thailand’s amazing night markets and street food. They say the cheaper the food in Thailand, the more delicious and we found that to be so, so true! One of our FAVORITE meals was Anthony Bourdain-approved khao kha moo (pork leg & rice) from ‘The Cowgirl’ stand in Chiang Mai. We ordered two small plates¬†first, which we devoured within seconds, and promptly ordered another large plate to share. YUM. Chicagoans, make sure to check out JJ Thai Street Food for a pretty solid version of khao kha moo.¬†

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Another favorite meal – khao soi from Khao Soi Khun Yai. Spicy & flavorful, we INHALED these little bowls of happiness.

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Ahhh, Krabi. Truly PARADISE. We stayed at the gorgeous Amari Vogue resort on Tubkaek Beach, which was so serene and utterly beautiful. The Andaman Sea is so still and warm as bathwater. Like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. Every morning, we would venture out to Ao Nang to get our fill of local seafood – the best places to eat were the little halal street stalls with amazing chili crab, coconut shrimp curry, crab fried rice, garlic squid, and more. So delicious.¬†

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Venturing out on a snorkeling trip to the Hong islands. 

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Crystal clear perfection. 

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More snorkeling views on Hong Island.

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Quite possibly my favorite picture of my entire trip. They say that sunsets on Tubkaek Beach are pure magic. They weren’t wrong.¬†

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My husband and I had a moment of immense gratitude during this sunset. Hope to be back here with our kids some day.