Startups are making traveling with babies less awful

Traveling with kids means saying goodbye to midnight tapas, hello to in-flight diaper changes. Instead of breezing through security with a carry-on and a couple of magazines, you show up with car seats and folding cribs, bags stuffed with formula and toys impossible to fly without

Or maybe not.

While apps can’t help with the airborne diapers, these days parents can leverage a slew of online companies to solve other challenges on the road. These startup services may not have been designed to let you leave home without lugging a mega-pack of diapers — but co-opting them for that purpose proves a winning strategy. A little creative smartphone use can make trips with kids seem almost like … trips without kids.

They really work. On a recent trip to Washington, DC, I wanted to try a buzzy barbecue joint, Federalist Pig. It would have been a no-brainer for childless me, but couldn’t have been less convenient for a parent with two small kids in tow. It was a hike from both the train station and our hotel; it doesn’t take reservations and often has a line running down the block; it only serves until the day’s batch of slow-and-low-cooked meat runs out.

The sharing economy saved the day — or, at least, satisfied my foodie craving. On the train ride down, I had a virtual assistant from FancyHands make sure the restaurant was open that day, placed our order online, then used TaskRabbit to hire someone to pick up and deliver our food. When we arrived at the hotel, lunch was waiting; all we had to do was dump our luggage and dig in.

That’s just one way to hack a family vacation with apps. Here are six more tricks.

  • Don’t pack — Prime

Why stuff your suitcase with diapers when, with a little forethought, you can use Amazon Prime to send a couple of packs right to your hotel. (Give the property a heads up, just in case.) It works with everything from formula to beach toys — and even overseas. You can even do it if you’re renting an apartment. Airbnb guests can pick deliveries up at Amazon lockers all over the US, in parts of Canada and much of Europe.

  • Get an instant sitter

On-demand babysitting app Chime lets you book childcare in New Jersey, Boston, Chicago and Washington, DC, without having to conduct interviews or ask friends of friends for recommendations. Plug in your location and your desired date-night hours, and the app will send you screened babysitter matches to choose from. Rates start at $14 an hour, depending on the city and number of kids, and the in-app payment means you don’t have to worry about having extra cash on hand.

  • Go carry-on only

Stop schlepping skis — and just about everything else. Luggage Forward is one of the many online services that will pick up your gear and ship it to your destination. It’s pricier than airline baggage fees — domestic round-trip shipping for a small bag starts at $79 — but far more convenient than lugging bags through multiple airports. It pays to plan ahead: standard shipping is five days, and overnight service can triple the cost.

  • Eat fancy again

Just because you’re traveling with kids doesn’t mean your only options are Pizzeria Uno and room service. A number of apps let you eat at — or, more accurately, from — top restaurants with a few swipes, no babysitter required. Caviar, which operates in more than 15 US cities, delivers from spots like Pok Pok in Portland, Ore., and Boqueria in Washington, DC. In London, Supper shuttles food from the Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Tamarind. And UberEats has been expanding across the globe, picking up food from nice eateries in more than 200 cities, including Warsaw and Rio de Janeiro.

  • Have your assistant handle it

Calling the hotel to make sure a crib is available. Calling the airline to change your reservation. Calling the hotel again to ask for an early check-in so you don’t have to miss naptime. A virtual assistant service like FancyHands can take care of all those niggling little tasks, starting at about $30 a month. Just sign up and start emailing your requests in. They tend to do better at straightforward assignments, like making appointments, than at ones requiring judgment or expertise, like planning a trip.

  • Use a body double

At home, TaskRabbit is useful for hiring a last-minute dog walker or finding someone to do an Ikea run. But it’s just as handy on vacation — Taskers can hold your place in line at a popular venue or pick up event tickets (and even, ahem, some barbecued pork belly) for you. At press time, TaskRabbit was available in 39 US cities as well as London. If only they did on-demand diaper changes.

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