“So, you want to bring your kid to Europe for a one month vacation extravaganza. Sounds like fun. You’re nuts.” (insert eye roll)
This is the reaction I got from about 90% of the people when I told them about my summer vacation plans. Me, my daughter Phoebe, and my husband were going to Paris, Zurich, the Swiss Alps, all over Greece, and Vienna. With a one year old.
I didn’t think it was a crazy idea, until I got to Paris and realized it was a crazy idea, like who the f#@$ brings a baby on a one month Euro-trip?!?! I’ve only been a mom for 15 months. I don’t even know what the hell to do when I’m at home!
Anyways. It was wonderful, challenging, and the best time of my life, and I would travel there every summer if I could. Especially now that I know what I know.
Whether you’re jet setting or back packing through Europe for one week or one year, having a toddler in tow is not always the easiest thing, but it doesn’t need to be the hardest thing either. I’ve had several people ask me over the last month how I managed being in Europe for one month with a one year old. We hit 4 countries and 13 cities, and yes I’m a little crazy for attempting a large scale vacation with a one year old, but I would do it again in a heart beat. It was a learning experience for sure. Here are some ways to help make it a little easier.
1.) Packing- This is the biggest, most important thing. DO NOT OVER PACK. Carrying a baby around, hauling suitcases and a diaper bag, stroller, and toys, and all that extra stuff is a huge hassle. You will get to a point where you can’t even keep track of all your crap anymore. Leave the heels, statement jewelry, and work out clothes at home. It’s a nice thought, but you won’t use any of it. Bring practical clothes that you’ll be comfortable walking and touring in. Do not bring 2 changes of clothes per day and a fresh pair of pj’s for every night for the baby. Your baby can wear the same outfit twice. Bring a Tide Stick to get little stains out. Most hotels will do your laundry for a fee. Look into it when you’re booking and plan on doing that. Carrying around a suitcase full of dirty, sweaty, smelly clothes is scummy anyways. Don’t be scummy.
2.) Fly at bedtime- If at all possible, plan for your flight to leave in the evening or at night. This way, your child will be ready for bed at the beginning of the trip and (fingers crossed) should sleep most of the flight. If they don’t, see number #6.
3.) Buy a seat for the baby- Babies under 2 years old fly free. All you have to pay are airline fees and taxes. What?!?! Hell yes, Europe here we come!!! This was my biggest planning mistake. Ten hours of a baby on my lap was exhausting for both of us. If you can afford it, pay for a seat for your babe. I promise, you will be grateful to have the extra space.
4.) Layovers- if you have a layover on any of your flights, give yourself at least 2-3 hours in between flights. You have to wait for your stroller at the gate, find your new gate, sometimes you have to go through customs, get your bag from the baggage claim, recheck your bag, go back through security, and probably change a poopy diaper. Large airports in Europe can be tricky to find your way around. Factor into this equation that there may be a language barrier, so getting help may not be as easy. Babies and toddlers don’t do well when they’re being rushed around in a chaotic environment.
5.) Diapers and the diaper bag- Bring swim diapers if your itinerary has any beach/pool time on it. Euro-babies typically go nude on the beaches, and you’ll have a hard time finding swim diapers. Regular diapers are sold at grocery stores and pharmacies all over the place. Pampers are the only U.S. brand I’ve ever seen in Europe, so if you just have to have those cute Honest diapers or your baby can’t have synthetic anything on their little tushy, then bring your own. When it comes to the diaper bag, don’t stuff it with 15 diapers, a whole package of wipes, 10 bottles, 20 baby food pouches, and 35 different toys. Pack only what you need to get you to your destination. The rest you can buy when you arrive. One of my favorite things to do is check out the European grocery stores and pharmacies and see all of the different things they have. You’ll find some of the best souvenirs (like chocolates) at grocery stores. I also have some of the best and cutest toys that we purchased while we were in each country. Seeing Phoebe play with her Euro toys now that we’re at home just brings back some of the best memories of the trip. ::sigh::
6.) Entertainment- Have your cell phone and tablet fully charged with every baby app known to mankind downloaded and ready to go. You will need it for the flights, hotel down time, and when you’re out to eat. Remember, restaurants in Europe tend to have slower service and meals usually take 1.5 to 2 hours. If your kid can tolerate that, bravo. Mine can’t, and we relied on good ol’ Sago Mini to get her through it. Bring extra charged batteries or those on-the-go charger things, because when your phone dies is when your kid will
want to need to play with it the most. Just throw all of your “my baby won’t ever use technology to entertain himself” views out the door. You want to remain sane, don’t you?
7.) Strolling around– Get a light weight stroller that collapses in half. We loved this Mama’s and Papa’s stroller. A taxi won’t be able to fit all your suitcases and a stroller. It’s rare to see mini van or SUV style taxis that can accommodate our large American stuff, and if you do, you’ll definitely be paying a lot extra for it. If you’re bringing a baby carrier, clip it to the bottom of the basket and it’ll stay in when it’s folded up. This way you won’t have to haul it around or waste space in your suitcase packing it.
8.) Washing bottles- Baby bottles and sippy cups can get ripe if they’re not washed regularly. I brought some Bounty paper towels that have Dawn soap inside and they worked wonderfully. Obviously, washing bottles in a hotel sink every night isn’t the most glamorous thing, but they get the job done well, plus you won’t have to haul around a bottle of dish soap and a sponge.
9.) Sight seeing- ha ha ha. You think you’re going to sight see with a toddler??? Okay, so here’s two different strategies you can use. 1.) Plan a sight seeing tour for when your kid is ready for nap time, if and only if they are good at passing out without having a meltdown in the stroller. This will allow you at least one to two hours of uninterrupted touring. 2.) Plan a sight seeing trip for as soon as they wake up in the morning or from their nap. The key is to get them out when they’re in their best mood. Bring toys, books, and snacks for them to have in the stroller.
10.) Getting on schedule- I know you’re probably thinking, “Schedule? We’re on vacation! There’s no schedules on vacation!”. Funny thing about babies and toddlers, they don’t give two shits about your vacation, and you will be on their agenda. What’s the best way to work around this? Keep them on a structured schedule as best as you can. Children thrive on routine and schedules. If they’re used to having a bottle in bed with you in the morning while watching cartoons, then keep that part of their routine in their schedule. They’ll love German Daniel Tiger just as much as American Daniel Tiger. A good way to go about your busy day is to plan a small sight seeing trip or activity in the morning, go back to the hotel for a nap and downtime, and then go back out in the late afternoon/evening for more touring. Try to have your baby in bed for the night at a decent time. They do much better with early bed times.
11.) Find fun things for them to do- I know, I know. You’re in Europe and the last thing you want to do is sit at a stupid park for an hour when you could be walking through the halls of the Louvre Museum or taking in a concert at an opera in Vienna. Remember, when your kid is happy, everyone is happy. I used things like trips to the park, going on carousel rides, childrens’ museums, splash pads, and the zoo as a way to bribe/motivate Phoebe to keep her cool when we were doing boring adult stuff. When she was about to lose it at dinner or in a museum, I’d ask her if she wanted to go to the park or on a carousel ride and she’d always do her little grunt that means ‘yes’, and I’d tell her she has to be a good girl, sit in her stroller and not cry. To my shock, this worked wonders for my one year old. I was so surprised at how much she understood and how much a little reward could make her behave better. Whatever will work to keep your little one happy and motivate them to be on their best behavior, use it, use it, use it. I will also say that being in the parks and little kid attractions was a lot of fun. You see the locals and how they interact with their kids. It’s a fun way to get a peek at everyday life wherever you are, and a good way to sit back and soak it all in.
12.) Dealing with jet lag- I say “dealing” because it is something you will have to deal with for several days for yourself and for your child. If you arrive at your destination in the morning, let your kid have a nap. Their body will think it’s night time and they’ll try to sleep for hours, but wake them up after a couple hours. This will help to get them acclimated to the new timezone. Try to make them stay awake until 7 or 8 pm after they’ve had a nap. If you let them sleep all day, they will be up and ready to rock and roll at 10 pm, right when you are ready to pass the eff out. If you arrive in the evening or at night, have something to eat and go to bed. Give the whole family a couple days to get fully acclimated (i.e. don’t be surprised when your baby has a few more tantrums than usual or is extra sleepy all the time).
13.) Melt downs happen. It’s okay and you’re not the only one. If you find that your baby is having melt downs way more than usual, you have to scale back on the amount of activities and running around you’re doing. I know, you’re on a vacation of a lifetime and you want to see everything. I get it. Our first few days in Paris were the worst because Phoebe was exhausted from jet lag and we were trying to do and see everything. Once we slowed down a bit, she was much happier. Go to parks, have dinner in the hotel room one night, find a pool they can play in. Do things that will make them happy, and you will be happy too.
14.) This vacation is not your vacation- this is a vacation for your whole family, which means you have to center it around what’s best for your baby. I told myself over and over that our trip was not going to be like when we vacationed pre-baby. I told myself that we would have to take things slow. When we arrived in Paris, I turned into a sight seeing lunatic mom. I felt like I was always missing out on something. I pushed Phoebe to her limit many times and that is the one and only thing I regret about the whole vacation. After the first few days of hell, I saw how much better she did once we centered our day around her schedule and her needs.
15.) Have fun- If everyone is always tired and crying, then something is not right. Take a step back and re-evaluate things. Slow down. Have fun! Make the best of every moment and memory you make, and just remember that you can always go back to see whatever it was that you didn’t get to see or do.
I’m sure I’ll think of 20 more things I could add to the list, but this is a good start. Anyone else have any tips or advice to offer on Euro-tripping with kids? I’d love to hear!
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