Growing up my parents always told us stories about the European trip they took with my brother when he had just turned one. It was just the three of them, road tripping throughout Europe for three weeks. They speak so fondly of these memories and some of the stories I know so well it’s like I was there myself. The photos are amazing, too. My care-free tanned parents and my brother smiling in cobblestone lined streets. It was picturesque and because of these stories and photos I adopted the belief that it was dire to travel to Europe before my own daughter turned one. I don’t know what it was that made it so important to me. Maybe I could just see how significant those memories are to them and I wanted my own. Maybe it’s because while traveling with an infant is no easy task but you can do it. It’s not always hard. With a little bit of information and prep it is possible and really enjoyable.
With all this advice like just go for it, you can do it, it’s so easy – I also remember right after I booked our flights to Spain and the confirmation page popped up I thought I’d made a horrible mistake. I had been so hell bent on proving to myself that we could do it, I didn’t think about actually doing it. I didn’t occur to me beforehand how different the long haul flight would be and all [THE THINGS] we would need. Then I started to wonder if I was putting her in danger somehow. I adopted a new fear of flying (only momentarily thankfully) and considered all the horrible situations that might occur. What if-what if-what if. So I just put it all into perspective. We love to travel and we want to travel with her. I can’t control everything but I can do my best to be prepared. She’s a baby and she’s going to cry, she will be cranky and she’ll need to sleep. But you just make the best of it. She of course changed the way we travel but in a good way. Instead of taking the city by storm and seeing anything and everything in a limited amount of time, we really took our time. It was so much more enjoyable this way too. We made a couple of plans a day whether it was a restaurant, a neighborhood we wanted to see or an actual attraction and we got to it when we got to it.
Packing. Overall we had two backpacks, one large suitcase and a stroller. I had a similar game plan as our first domestic trip here. I wanted to bring one big suitcase and pack all of our stuff in it. It a stretch but because we were also traveling with a stroller I thought having two suitcases and a stroller would make traveling to our hotel really difficult (especially because we were traveling by bus to our hotel and walking a bit once the bus dropped us off). I’m over the days of packing multiple outfits for everyday so I’ve become more of savvy packer. I would consider packing two suitcases if we were taking a cab ride to our hotel. But international travel isn’t always that simple. I didn’t send our diapers ahead this time to the hotel so I had to pack ours which ended up screwing us up because we went over the weight 50 lb weight limit. At the last minute, I was scrambling to put things in our backpacks because I didn’t want to pay the fee. It worked out but it left us with heavy, jam-packed backpacks. In the future, I will probably contact the hotel concierge and see about easy ways to buy diapers there if I can’t send ahead of time. We pushed our stroller to the gate and they put it under the plane. Note In most domestic flights, if you push the stroller to the gate and check it there they will bring the stroller up when the flight lands. We waited for 20 minutes until someone in scrambled English told us it wasn’t coming up and would be in the baggage claim. So we left the gates and the security area to get the stroller only to find that it wasn’t there. We then had to go through security again which was stressful because our layover wasn’t long. What he meant was that it would be at the baggage claim for our final destination. I learned later that they don’t bring the strollers up to you (at least on AirBerlin) but check it through to your final destination. I would ask one of the flight attendants right before landing what their protocol typically is just so you have a heads up. In Barcelona, the stroller went to the “oversized” baggage claim area which was set aside from where our regular luggage came out. We had the baby carrier too but I didn’t end up using it as much this trip. The only time I found it really helpful was in the airport. Tip Check with your airline policies before you leave. Many airlines will let you check baby gear for free.
The Flight Something I have learned about most international flights is they offer baby bassinets. You heard it right. If you request the front row of your section they have a bassinet that attaches to the wall that you can literally pop your baby into. They can lay in it and sleep or you can just give your arms a break and let them play. There is a weight limit and I think it works right up around 1 year. When I found this out I thought it was too good to be true. No joke, I called to request the correct seats and then leading up to the flight I called two more times to confirm. We took an overnight flight which was risky but it worked out with the bassinet. My general plan for the flight was to get her on and put her right to sleep because it was her normal bed time. What I didn’t take into account was (1) the (very nice) German ladies who were doting on Sona and (2) the overhead lights. There were a couple of hours of unexpected playing before the lights went off but when they did she slept and then we slept so it all worked out. I packed – diapers, wipes, change of clothes for her and shirts for us. Snacks for her, new small toys that she had never seen before, a sippy cup. In the future, I’ll download a couple of baby games/shows for her to mess around on our iPad with. I also carried a small bag of baby medicine for worst case scenarios. Tip Airplanes are gross. I always carry disinfectant wipes and wipe down our whole area right before we get settled in. I also take immune boosting tablets a few days before we go, like airborne. Call me crazy but you never know who is sitting down right before you and I like to be as cautious as I can.
Hotel My only criteria was a clean, family-friendly hotel. Do they offer cribs or something similar? Do children stay often and is there positive reviews from likeminded families? For Barcelona, I intentionally looked for a pool because I thought it would be a fun thing to do before a nap.
Gear I decided we were going to “rough it” meaning we were going to make due without a lot of Sona’s baby items for the time we were there. I made this decision mostly based on having to travel with a lot of stuff. It was a personal choice and it worked out fine but there are other solutions. There are (genius) companies out there that rent baby gear!! For affordable prices you can rent all the things you might need and have it delivered to your hotel. I haven’t used these companies but would definitely consider it in the future Baby’s Away Have Baby Will Travel has a great directory on rental companies in different destinations. You can also just search “rental baby gear” and your location and companies will pop up. I would just look for positive reviews and feedback from other families outside of their website reviews.
Time Change and Jet Lag I thought the jet lag was going to be much more of a problem for us. Besides the fact that we all slept until 11am the first morning, it was fine. Every day we made a point to be back at the hotel for her to have a crib nap. Most of the time it ended up being her first morning nap because we’d just take our time getting out. Besides that she could nap in the stroller, whenever and it worked out for everyone. We had a couple of later dinners 9-10 but she did fine with that too. It was a matter of accommodating what she needed and not pushing it too far the other way. If she needed to rest, we would let her.
Getting around with the city Our primary way of getting around everywhere was walking. Having a stroller was huge for this. We have a Baby Jogger and it was perfect for getting around the uneven cobblestoned streets. We didn’t have one problem. I’d recommend a jogger or something similar for some of the older cities you visit. If your stroller isn’t capable of that kind of movement it can be super frustrating. When we didn’t walk we took a cab or metro. The metro was interesting and definitely doable but more difficult. There weren’t always ramps so we were doing a lot of folding and unfolding. There were a couple elevators that helped but I didn’t find it was the easiest way to get around with a baby. Taking cabs were really great but can be expensive. None of the cabs we went in had car seats, I would just hold her.
Restaurants and eating out We found in Barcelona that eating out with an infant was incredibly easy and restaurants were accommodating. Everywhere we went they offered high-chairs. Staff was always really kind to her and us. I would always ask about highchairs first because it wouldn’t have been worth it for us to hold her throughout a meal. There were two lunches we had that I purposely walked around to put her to sleep and she stayed in the stroller. If we made reservations for dinner we would make them on the early side to respect non-children parties. But we absolutely enjoyed long lunches & dinners with her with us. Below are some items that could make eating out with your babes a little easier.
Big city travel and being easy targets all major cities have pickpocketing and theft and I felt that we needed to be extra cautious about our things because we would be singled out for being a family. This meant in really populated areas I would carry my backpack in the front of me and we wouldn’t keep anything like cameras, phones in the stroller holders where we usually keep it. I also rarely had our backpack underneath the stroller in case someone tried to grab it and run. Dan didn’t keep much in his pockets either or if he did he would make sure that his hands were in his pocket. It seems dramatic but it happens so fast. They are smart and realize especially with families the last thing we might be thinking about is having our stuff stolen. Check out these articles for more information and tips on how to prevent pickpocketing. Travel & Leisure Tips for preventing pickpocketing. How to Avoid Being Pickpocketed
All and all if you enjoy traveling and want to travel you still can. I would never say it’s easy because I don’t think being a parent is ever easy but its obtainable. You just need to start with your expectations. You most likely will not be laying on a beach uninterrupted for a hours or going morning to night with nonstop exploring. So if that is what you are hoping for it’s probably not realistic. But traveling with children slows down the pace a bit and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You get to really see and experience a destination without the stress of seeing it all. More importantly you get to see it through there eyes which for me was the most special of all.