With Becca and I both off work (Becca for another nine months and me for another two), we thought it would be a great opportunity to take a trip with Charlee and get some of those first travels in while she’s still tiny and manageable.
Sounds so easy when you say that out loud… ‘tiny and manageable’… sure.
Well, suffice it to say, I have learned a lot and figured what a great opportunity to regale you all with the tale of our trip, and also highlight some of my recommendations based on our experience.
Where To Go?
Deciding on a location was pretty easy for us. We didn’t want to go through the whole rigamarole of getting Charlee a passport, let alone the turnaround time necessary for us to wait. Admittedly, we could have gone through an express request process to speed it up, but regardless it would probably have meant a trip down to the States, and with the Canadian dollar sitting at around 75 cents U.S., it could be a pretty expensive excursion.
We also knew we wanted to opt for a drive rather than flying as we knew that Charlee was a real champ in the car and would probably sleep the whole ride away.
Montreal seemed like a great place to visit, and we thought we’d kill two birds with one stone and visit a friend of Becca’s on the way in Ottawa.
With some research we found that there was a Christmas Market or two up and running, as well as the great walks through Old Montreal, Chinatown, St Catherine’s street, food markets, and all the other awesome sights throughout the city.
I’ve personally been a dozen times. With the exception of this year, I’ve been heading to Montreal for the Formula 1 race every since 2009. Becca had been before too, but wanted to have a new experience there with Charlee and I, and we couldn’t agree more.
After getting an oil change and service done on the car, and getting the winter tires put on too, I charted out a path that would have us stopping every two hours; first at a rest stop off the highway, then at our friend Kate’s place, and finally our final stop in Montreal.
For the third time, we opted to use AirBnB for our accommodations this trip for many reasons. First and foremost, the cost was much cheaper than any hotel we could find. For us to stay in Old Montreal on the 17th floor of a high-rise condo, we ended up paying $100 a night including parking. Hotels would have been double that.
The fact that we had a one bedroom apartment was also a plus. This meant a full kitchen and washer/dryer – two things that would prove to be very important.
While here, we went for a quick grocery shop and for the $50 we spent, we had most breakfasts, dinners, and a lot of snacks taken care of for the 4 nights we were staying. I figure we probably saved about $100 in food with this one grocery shop, so having a kitchen at our disposal was a huge perk and cost saving measure.
The washer and dryer combo was invaluable from day one when Charlee decided to test the structural integrity of her diapers… and she won… impressively! Without the laundry facilities, we would have had to either pay for a service, wash them in a sink, or plastic bag them and take them home to deal with… 4 days later!
Admittedly, Becca was in charge of the packing. When I’m in charge, I easily overpack. I just seem to assume the worst and somehow justify twelve pairs of underwear for four days. She must think I have a bowel or bladder problem!
Seeing as this trip with a two month old was a first for both us, I will say that Becca did a fantastic job, even packing random things like pee pads and our buckwheat pillow, both of which came in very handy.
At the end of the day, we packed the following:
- Clothing – mine, Becca’s, and outfits and pj’s for Charlee with backups, wash cloths, bibs, facecloths, hats, and snow suits
- Diapers – in total, probably 50 to be on the safe side
- Adult toiletries – buzzer, razor, shampoo, soap, towels
- Baby toiletries – bum balm, vitamin D drops, probiotics, hand sanitizer, soap, sponge, nose frida
- Food – snacks for the car including vegetable slices, granola bars, vitamins (always important for healthy dads and breastfeeding mums)
- Car seat
- Bassinet for Charlee to sleep in
- The Snuggle Pillow which we’ve kind of converted into a little papasan chair for Charlee and she adores it
- The white noise machine
What we missed and needed to buy:
- Adult toiletries -Shampoo, shaving cream, bar soap, laundry detergent (organic/baby friendly stuff), spot stain remover (organic/baby friendly stuff)
- Baby toiletries – more pee pads – these are good for creating a makeshift changing station in the apartment
- Food – still needed to do a grocery shop for some food for the week
- It doesn’t really count, because it was the plan all along to buy in Montreal, but we did pick up a Mei Tai wrap for Charlee from the wonderful people at Melons and Clementines. If you’re in the city, visit!
What I would change next time:
- Having this Mei Tai next time will help out so much. The stroller was a burden, though helped when we needed to shlep gifts and groceries. In general, Montreal is not a very stroller friendly city (at least the downtown core isn’t), so next time we would be less dependant on it at the least.
- Bringing everything needed to setup a change table/station at the home base, in this case the apartment. Assuming that we would use the portable change pad was unrealistic considering how emulating our home setup was the most comfortable approach.
- Having the courage to try eating in restaurants more. Charlee is exceptional, but we erred on the side of wanting home advantage, especially into the later hours where she would be due to get into her sleep schedule.
There are a ton of takeaways, I think, so more on that as I break down the trip for you.
How the Trip Unfolded:
We had everything packed and ready to go; the dog was boarded, the house was clean, and we figured we wouldn’t rush anything, but rather have Charlee sleep through her normal routine.
Lately she had been doing a phenomenal 7 hour stretch from 8:30 to around 3:30 AM, then back to sleep until around 7:30. That seemed like the perfect time to have her awake, fed, bathed and dressed for the road.
Just as we had hoped, Charlee slept like a champ and I took the opportunity to get up a half hour before her to prep a few things (including myself) for the car ride to follow.
Once awake, we got all the wheels in motion and headed out the door to fill up the car with gas and grab a coffee and a muffin for the road.
The highway was beautifully clear, and we made great time and distance for the first leg, stopping at one of the provincial ‘on route’ stops on the highway. Once there, Charlee capitalized on the opportunity to poop twice and allow us to feed her and get her ready for the next stretch of drive. She was doing fantastically well, and slept the entire drive.
We got to Ottawa by around 1 in the afternoon, perfect timing to have a quick lunch with Kate and catch up while she got to meet with Charlee and we got to see her and her gigantic boxer/lab, Benji. Kate, Benji, and Kate’s boyfriend Casey live on her sister’s gorgeous property and it was great to see her and check out her new digs.
After a couple hours of visiting we made our way back out to the highway and within a couple hours were finally getting into Montreal, just in time for the sun to be setting (thank you daylight savings) and rush hour to be peaking.
As the GPS guided us along, we found the building but could not figure out the parking. I pulled over and called the property management company overseeing the rental unit, and they advised that I hadn’t booked the parking… sigh…
A few stressed out moments later, we sorted things out, and over the speakerphone, they guided us to the parking all the while Charlee was howling in discontent, having been woken up by my stress induced tirade.
This would be one thing I would like to change for next time, but I think stressing out once on vacation is kinda my thing. Just ask Becca about our layover in LAX on our return flight from Melbourne.
Finally we were settled in and a tad hungry, so I went out and picked up some Chinese food, brought it back to the apartment, and settled in for the night.
Looking at the weather, it wasn’t going to be the best, but we weren’t going to let that dampen our spirits, pun intended.
The next morning, Charlee again slept like an angel, and we were immediately into our home wake up routine. We decided to treat ourselves to a nice breakfast, and went to a place called Universel Déjeuners et Grillades, on Rue Peel. It was a really pretty place, and though Charlee slept on the walk, she woke up when we got there and ‘smell-ate’ our meal with us, not putting up a fuss at all.
We followed up breakfast with a walk along St Catherines Street, stopping at the Simon’s and the Eaton Centre to get some shopping done.
While there, Becca fed Charlee and I attempted to change her. Low and behold, there are no change tables in the men’s washroom there, only in the women’s. Suffice it to say, the mall has been tweeted at quite passionately.
It’s odd, but like I mentioned above, not only is Montreal not very current about fatherhood needs, but they are also horribly stroller unfriendly. The number of times we had to lift the stroller up and down stairs, manoeuvre it through stores, or straight up wait outside while the other person shopped as the stroller would simply not fit, was staggering. I would hate to think how folks in wheelchairs get by there.
Regardless, we trucked on, walking through the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, and through the bakeries and shops of China Town. We did about 10 km that day, and it was great.
We finished off the day with a quick grocery shop for some of the fundamentals we had forgotten to pack, and some food to cover a few meals and capitalize on having a kitchen in our apartment. We came to realize that it would have been nice if the apartment had ketchup, oil, salt, and other condiments, but that wasn’t the case. We made do just fine though.
One thing we had trouble finding and would have packed differently for next time, was detergent and stain remover. We are adamant about not exposing Charlee to too much of the toxicity and chemicals out there with many of the generic brand cleaners, so we opt for organic, natural cleansers. This is something that at home we know where to buy, but in Montreal it was a bit more of a hunt.
Of course, we hadn’t expected to be using the laundry as much as we did, but we also hadn’t expected Charlee to poop through her diaper, pants, onesie, and sweater.
When that kid goes, she really goes!
I made us some dinner with our fresh groceries, and tucked Charlee in for the night.
After making some breakfast, we packed up and headed out in the car, looking to travel to some of the further destinations while the weather was really rainy.
We started off at a maternity store that we had read much about, but didn’t know what to expect.
Melons and Clementines, is listed as Montreal’s boutique offering services for all your breastfeeding needs.
Personally, my breast feeding needs are few and far between, but Becca had a field day! Aside from being able to find some bras and nursing tanks that she otherwise was going to have to buy online, we saved a ton of money thanks to their reasonable prices.
We also found and bought a new carrier for Charlee, thanks in full to the supremely knowledgeable and courteous staff.
We bought a Mei Tai by a company called Moa Po and it is what I would consider the most comfortable, least bulky, most usable (good up to a 40 lb. toddler), nicest designed, least confusing, and most economical carrier we’ve found. We also got the jacket extenders and ordered the zipper sets for both of our coats so we could wear Charlee in the cold winter months.
Speaking of whom, Charlee also stepped up to the plate during our visit, and made two glorious poops which I got to change in the more than amply setup change room at the store. Oh the things you celebrate as a parent!
I will say that Becca and I were chatting about how niche this store’s setup is, and maybe one day we should open up something like it in Toronto… time will tell! Their focus was less on “everything” baby, but more about mum – breastfeeding, including classes and lactation consultation, foods and organic supplies, clothing for the pregnant mum to be, and the nursing mum with babe. Very cool stuff, and an obviously huge fan club of followers.
After a couple enjoyable hours at the store, we left to go checkout one of Montreal’s public markets, the Atwater Market, where we bought some pastries and foodie gifts.
We were anxious to try out the new Mei Tai, so we headed back the apartment right after, popped Charlee in the carrier, and walked across the street to the Montreal Convention Centre to checkout the Nutcracker Christmas Market, otherwise known as the Marché Casse-Noisette at the Palais des congrès de Montréal… easier typed than said.
Charlee slept all throughout the walk, and we had a great time buying some gifts for friends and family back home.
We finished up and headed back to the apartment, made some dinner, fed and changed the baby, and off to sleep we went.
Another magical night from Charlee, and we got our day started with some breakfast in the apartment.
The weather was calling for just a bit of a drizzle, more like a spritz, so we decided that today would be a great day for a long walk through the Quartier des Spectacles (an entertainment district located in the eastern section of Downtown Montreal) finishing off with a stop to one of my favourite destinations, Schwartz’s.
We made our way up and around the neighbourhood, stopping in at La Vieille Europe for some tasty foodie gifts, and finally into Schwartz’s. The guys there are such mensch’s and made space for Charlee’s carseat and stroller, in an otherwise packed restaurant.
I got to eat a smoked meat sandwich, medium, with dill pickle and a can of Cott’s black cherry soda. Becca got a poutine and a ginger ale and we chowed down!
Full to the brim, we shuffled out the door and down the street, pit-stopping at a Starbucks for a diaper change. Finally we made it back to the apartment, just as the sky started opening up with some more drizzling.
After feeding Charlee, we hopped in the car and drove out to pick up some clothes from Joe Fresh and the zippers for the jacket inserts that had been ordered from Melons and Clementines.
After getting tangled up in some rush hour traffic, we finally made it home and picked up some Chinese takeout again…. hey come on, i’m on vacation!
Having loaded most of the luggage in the night before, cleaning up and leaving was a breeze, and we were out of the apartment nice and early .
We started our trek with a trip to one of the other markets, called Marche Jean Talon. This one is my favourite as it is packed with beautiful produce, meats, cheeses, desserts and delicacies.
We bought some custard tarts and some Montreal specialty beers for some adult stocking stuffers. Spent a good chunk of change, but all well worth it.
I wanted to make sure we picked up some Montreal bagels, so we finished our trip with an early lunch at the St. Viateur Cafe and bakery. We both had a delicious smoked salmon on a bagel, and bought another 2 dozen bagels for the road.
After a quick feeding and change for Charlee, we were on the road and headed back home to Toronto.
Traveling with Charlee was much of what I expected, with a bunch of what I didn’t expect.
I was confident she would be a great travel buddy – she sleeps well, eats well, loves parties and noises, and quite frankly, is pretty predictable.
With that being said, I wasn’t sure if the change of scenery would affect her scheduling, but it appeared that the onus was on us as her parents to try our best and ensure the least amount of disruption as possible.
At the end of the day, she kept with her routine, if not perfected it, during our stay!
I think we prepared as best as possible, and with the exception of a few ‘blowout’ diapers, and some poor scheduling in terms of dinners, we had a pretty successful and awesomely enjoyable trip.
Becca and I enjoyed not just Charlee, but each other’s company, which is a huge thing that you need to factor into a family getaway.
We’re already talking about our next trip… I think it will be a flight… but where?!
Time will tell, but we know we’ll have a great time.