How to Take Your Child’s Passport Photo

Remember how I told you it is almost always better to take your own passport photos and bring them with you when submitting the application? Here’s how.

For our countries of interest (New Zealand & the USA), the requirements are the same, but you should always double-check before finalizing your photo. Child positioned against an untextured white or off-white background, two eyes open, looking at camera, nothing in front of face, no hands visible, no expressions, mouth closed.

For an infant, it is easiest to lay a plain white blanket or sheet over a carseat or bouncer chair, set the child in the seat, then wave a toy around near the camera to try to get them to look at it when you take the photo.

For a toddler that can stand but can’t stand still, our strategy was to sit on the floor against a plain colored door and hold Joey above one of our heads (remember we can’t be visible in the photo and he has to have a white background behind him) while the other of us waved toys about and took photos. Here’s what happened:

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Set child on head. Oh look, a doorknob! Clearly, neither of these photos will do.

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Yes! He finally has learned to smile for the camera! What a perfect photo! Except we then re-read the requirements, which mention that the child must not smile or have any expression on their face. Keep trying.

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Not looking at camera – no dice. Great mug shot, but this one won’t fly either because Joey’s mouth is open and it must be closed. Have you ever tried to explain to a happy, energetic, talkative, 14-month old to keep their mouth closed for a photo? I resorted to trying to startle him by hiding and popping out while Simon held him. There was a brief moment of shock before he giggled during which I had 0.2 seconds to take an effective photo. After many tries…

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Success.

Once you have the digital photo, crop to the correct size (2″ x 2″ with the head 1″ to 1 3/8″ high for the USA). For ease of printing, I put several copies of the cropped photo into a Microsoft powerpoint slide, formatted to be 4″ x 6″ (standard photo size). It also works to crop in powerpoint. I double check the size and line them up. You can fit 6 on a slide. I usually leave extra space around each and do 3-4 per slide. Then save as a photo and print at your neighborhood one hour vendor.

Not the easiest task ever, but a lot better than showing up for your passport application with an uncooperative kid or sleeping infant. Good luck!

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Shenandoah Valley Camping & Apples

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We took Joey to the mountains this weekend for camping and apple picking, and even convinced some willing friends to join us!

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We stayed at Shenandoah River State Park, in one of the large primitive campsites along the river. This park is absolutely gorgeous, and the upkeep is impeccable. One of the trails we explored from the campsite had a full boardwalk that followed the river! We were just a little too early to get a full fall-leave color explosion, but spotted several yellows and reds popping up in the forest. We will definitely be back, this gem is only 1.5 hours drive from Alexandria.

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Joey has always enjoyed camping, and this time was no exception. He was fully entertained by exploring the outdoors, and extra happy to have his friend Derek along. This is his first camping trip since he has learned to walk, and he had an absolutely fabulous time exploring the trails near our campsite. Derek & Joey’s favorite part of the weekend was being pulled in a wire wagon trolley, left as a courtesy to transport gear between cars and campsites. We made a campfire to keep warm and cook dinner, and the boys were less interested in it than expected (I thought it would be a full time job to keep Joey out of the fire, but he was content to watch from a distance and play in the gravel).

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Apple picking was more work than I remembered! Joey had a brief run around before napping in the Ergo carrier. I got the easier job of wandering through the orchard carrying him while Simon used a big picking pole to collect a bag of the largest and finest apples Virginia has to offer. If you haven’t already guessed, the Freeman fridge and freezer will soon be stocked with applesauce and apple pie. I welcome additional apple recipes 🙂

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Car camping like this is one of the most straightforward and fun ways to get your family outside! Both our car and our friends’ were fully loaded with food (we had enough for at least a week), blankets, extra clothes, and big family tents. Although the low temperature was near freezing, everyone stayed cozy with layers of fleece, jackets, and lots of blankets and sleeping bags.

Simon & Lauren’s Original Round-the-World Trip

In honor of throwback Thursday (#tbt), here is a link to our original travel blog, which we started back in 2008.

I’ll give you a short version of the story here.

Lauren went to New Zealand on study abroad in 2007, and met Simon in the University of Auckland Dive Club (which he was running at the time). Fast friends, they bonded over all things scuba and underwater. They kept in contact via phone and email for nearly a year, including on impromptu visit to Big White, Canada (Lauren went to meet Simon there for a long weekend in January 2008).

Lauren & Simon in Big White, Canada, early 2008
Lauren & Simon in Big White, Canada, early 2008

Soon after that weekend, they decided to go all in and planned a round-the-world escapade. It was to start days after Lauren graduated from the University of Miami, when she would fly from Miami to Auckland to meet Simon, who had just quit his job at Fisher & Paykel Engineering. From Auckland, they traveled to Australia, the Philippines, Palau, Thailand, and Cambodia. From Bangkok, they each flew in a different direction to New York City, USA, and returned to Miami together where they collected Lauren’s car (the trusty Toyota Prius that we still have now!) and belongings. They drove to her family home in Virginia and stayed for a few weeks before driving across North America to settle in San Diego, where they started graduate school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

I think you know the rest 🙂

married at Lauren's family home in Mathews, VA June 2011
married at Lauren’s family home in Mathews, VA June 2011
Joey joined team Freeman in August, 2013
Joey joined team Freeman in August, 2013

Flying with an Infant

As we prepare for our next round of flights, I realize that we have reached the world of toddler-hood. This is wonderful and exciting for all three Freemans! But our time of flying with an infant is behind us. So, with 25+ legs of air travel under Joey’s belt (his first flight was at 4 weeks old), here are our top tips for flying with an infant (not yet walking).

Baby Carriers. Use Them.

Boba Wrap
Boba Wrap

I LOVE baby carriers all of the time, but especially for air travel. For 0-6 months, my favorite was the Boba Wrap. At 4 months we started using our Ergo Performance Carrier as well. I pop Joey in it straight out of the car and he stayed there until we got to the gate. He then got some floor time on a jacket and a diaper change before boarding. He could nurse and receive a bottle in both carriers, and would often fall asleep in the carrier, making my life even easier. I have always been able to ‘wear’ Joey through the metal detector at the security checkpoint without trouble. However, other traveling moms have reported issues with having to take the baby out of the carrier at this time. Even so, they are SO very helpful for being able to go to the bathroom, eat a sandwich, move your luggage around, etc.

Don’t Worry!

If you are stressed, your baby gets stressed. All babies cry sometimes – if yours does on a plane, it is OK! Don’t worry about everyone around you getting upset (you’ll probably never see them again anyway), and focus on caring for your child.

Plan Ahead

Consider things like how often your child would normally eat during your projected flight time, and make sure you are prepared for that plus one meal. Change diapers immediately before boarding, and have everything you need for the projected number of diaper changes plus one.

Pack Wisely

Keep everything you need in flight to a minimum, in a small, open-topped bag you can have in front of you. Emergency items can be stored in your regular carry-on in the overhead locker (things like baby tylenol, extra food & diapers, extra clothes). It is wise to have these accessible, but you most likely won’t need them in flight so give yourself extra space. Our child was far more interested in other passengers, the window, the flight attendants, and the magazines than any toys or books that we brought him from home. I always had a blanket (usually Aden & Anais Swaddles) to help keep Joey warm and comfy while he napped, and use as a partial cover while nursing. Baby milk, formula, and food are exempt from the 3 oz carry-on limitation. You just need to pull it out and declare it at security. Flight attendants will provide bottled water to mix powdered formula, but never assume that they will have milk, juice, or snacks that are suitable for baby.

Lap Child

Baby Boarding Pass
Baby Boarding Pass

We have always traveled with Joey as a lap child (we are cheap!) and it has worked out fine for us. Make sure you add them to your reservation – if you book on miles, you need to then call on the phone to explain the lap child. You need to bring proof of age to check-in (a passport or birth certificate). They will issue a boarding document, that you need to show at the security gate and when boarding. Most airlines allow children under 2 to fly free as a lap child on domestic flights, and for a 10% of full ticket price fee on international.

Use Priority Boarding

Most airlines let you board first with small children, and it is usually worthwhile. It means you have your choice of overhead locker space for your carry-ons, and lots of time to get situated with your small one. I keep a small bag in front of me (under the seat) with in-flight necessities (see above), but most of our equipment is stored overhead for the duration.

Choose Seats Wisely

We preferred window seats nearer to the front of the plane if possible. There is a bit more elbow room on the window side, baby enjoys looking out when awake, and it is also more discreet for nursing and diaper changes.

Ears

Flying lets babies participate in adventures and experiences they may not otherwise have - like having a real lobster in Boston!
Flying lets babies participate in adventures and experiences they may not otherwise have – like having a real lobster in Boston!

We were often told to have Joey nurse or suck on something during take-off and landing to help his ears pop. That is great in theory, but in our experience not worth waking a sleeping baby for. He tended to pass out as soon as the engines turned on, and it was better to leave him that way. If he did wake up, we let him nurse, take a bottle, or suck on a pacifier. Descent tends to be hard on them than ascent. We never had any major problems though. Smiling and laughing do just as much for helping ears pop (it is all about getting them to move their jaw).

Entertainment

If possible, bring grandparents with you on the flight. This is the best entertainment!
If possible, bring grandparents with you on the flight. This is the best entertainment!

For the first 4 months, you don’t need much entertainment. Food and an airplane window will do just fine, or perhaps bring one toy. After about 6 months, the in flight magazine is a delightful toy to page through and tear apart. Never bring more than 2-3 toys/books in flight, and don’t bring favorites as they may get lost. A walk up and down the aisle is always fun, as is peek-a-boo with willing passengers in the rows ahead of or behind you. If you can find another baby, this works well for a long time!

Get the Bassinet

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Bassinets attach to the bulkhead, and are available on most international flights

International flight? Request a bassinet seat. You will have to request this 18 times – when you book your ticket, about a week before flight on the phone, when you check in and print your ticket, and at the gate. It is well worth it if you can get one, however. Even if baby doesn’t nap in the bassinet, they can play in there and give you a break.

Sleep

Try to time the flight with your child’s nap. If you aren’t on a schedule yet but you know they always nap after eating, hold off on feeding until you are settled in your seat. If you are on a schedule, try to time your flights accordingly. One dead arm is a small price to pay for a sleeping child in-flight. Joey fell asleep to the engine noise quickly on almost all of his flights and often stayed asleep longer than he would at home.

Car Seat & Stroller

Most airlines allow you to gate-check one car seat and one stroller per child for free. I have always preferred to check these when I get my ticket so that I don’t have to haul them through the airport – free doesn’t mean easy! We got a travel bag for the car seat which gives it some protection from tearing and dirt, and also allows me to stuff extra diapers and clothes inside. If you have purchased a seat for your infant or if you are hoping to snag an empty seat next to you for them (some airlines will give you this option if the flight isn’t full- it has never happened for me), then hang on to the car seat.

Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapers are our top choice even in-flight
Cloth diapers are our top choice even in-flight

Use cloth diapers? No problem! You can use them on an airplane too. For our first several flights we switched to paper diapers for the flight and kind of regretted it. I pack a full 2 day stash of diapers (and usually stuff it in the car seat bag 🙂 ) for trips, and bring with me only what I think I’ll need for travel time plus two emergency diapers. Although bulkier, I usually find it easiest to use one-piece diapers inflight. For us that means stuffed pockets. Beyond that, the drill is the same as a normal outing- when diapers are changed, dirty diapers are stored in a wet bag. I usually put a doubler in the first pocket Joey gets in flight, which will extend it to 6-8 hours unless he poops.

RELAX!

I know, I already said don’t stress. But seriously- babies fly all of the time. Even if you are unlucky enough to have a rude neighbor, most passengers are very considerate and understanding of littles even if they have a hard time. Remember to focus on what you can control, and not worry about the rest.