Prepare yourself for a long, detailed post about our experience traveling with a baby.
Tyler and I have always wanted to make traveling a priority for our family. We want to do everything we can to help our kids discover the world in a thoughtful way.
We have been so blessed to be able to travel so much together as a couple. Exploring the world together has been such a huge part of our relationship.
It feels natural to share that gift with our kids and cultivate a sense of adventure and curiosity in our family.
We knew that we wanted to take Charlotte to Europe before she turned two.
We had enough United points to cover both of our flights and wanted to avoid paying for her ticket while she is still considered a “lap infant.” (that term became all too real lol).
The trip ended up being one of the best trips we’ve ever been on (maybe even our favorite after our honeymoon). Charlotte was such a trooper, and it was so special.
We hadn’t traveled with her outside of visiting family, so this was our first “vacation” with her. Being able to get away for an extended period of time and just bond as a family of three is something I’ll treasure forever. It was so good for mine and Tyler’s relationship too.
And just to level set because I do think we had an advantage: Tyler and I are big travelers and are very comfortable meandering around Europe. For this trip in particular, we really just needed to prepare for what it would be like to have Charlotte in tow. If this had been our first time to Europe or our first big trip, it would have been much, much harder to have the baby with us. Not impossible, just a steeper learning curve.
Throughout the whole trip, I kept a note on my phone to keep track of things we discovered along the way about traveling with Charlotte. I was shocked at how much we’d learned after just a couple of days. I have done my best to sum everything up here in this blog post.
Also, hopefully goes without saying, but this is not the be all end all. Tyler and I are still barely passing as parents, so we are obviously learning as we go. This is just what we’ve learned so far.
Managing expectations + a little encouragement about traveling with a baby
When we were pregnant with Charlotte, we weren’t that surprised when people would ask if we were done traveling now. It seems like a common theme in our culture is that kids and babies can ruin travel and that you should get your bucket list squared away before “settling down.”
I mean, of course, traveling with a baby is different and more complicated. BUT. You CAN do it.
AND you can do it without a nanny or an unlimited budget, and it’s still really, really fun.
In the months leading up to the trip, I oscillated between feeling SO excited and then really nervous about how Charlotte would do. I kept hearing horror stories of catastrophic plane flights, embarrassing dinners, and stubborn jet lag.
I think the best thing we did for ourselves was keep our expectations realistic while maintaining a positive mindset. We knew that there was a good chance of the aforementioned horror stories happening to us (they did). But we also knew that even if those things happened that we would still have fun (we did).
So, yes, traveling with a baby is hard. But it’s so worth it.
She won’t remember it, but I think the trip did so much for her brain and social development. I heard someone say once that traveling with a baby is similar to reading with a baby–they don’t really know what’s going on and they won’t remember it, but it’s all a part of their development and setting the stage.
I could go on and on, but this trip was one of my favorite parts of the year and hopefully this will help inspire someone to take the leap.
Age of baby
When it comes to traveling with a baby, there are a few factors to consider while deciding exactly when to go. The biggest one, in my opinion, is the “lap infant” rule: children under two years old can fly for free. We definitely wanted to take advantage of that.
We went when Charlotte was almost 11 months old. In my opinion, anywhere between 6 months and a year old is ideal, if you have that flexibility.
Charlotte was sleep trained, eating almost everything, and in the happiest stage.
It was also right before she started walking. (I had dreams of her taking her first steps in Europe but of course she decided to wait until the day after we got home to do that, lol).
I’m not saying we won’t ever do this, but I can already tell that it would be much harder to travel with a toddler. Now that she’s walking, she isn’t quite as content in the stroller. I also would hate to deal with terrible two-induced tantrums on the go.
One note: Charlotte is really tall, so she was a bit long for the bassinet (more on this later). She would have slept much better in it a few months earlier when she was smaller.
Choosing your itinerary
This is probably the thing you’ll have to be most strategic about. Everyone is different, but Tyler and I really wanted this trip to be as relaxing as possible.
We knew that having Charlotte with us would make things more complicated, so we decided to avoid any busy cities or really touristy areas. The last thing we wanted was to spend our days dealing with metro schedules, crowded streets, and a mile-long to-do list.
I definitely did have moments on the trip where I was wishing that we could’ve shown Charlotte Paris, Rome, or even London, but I know that it just would’ve been so much more hectic. For our first trip traveling with her, it worked out perfectly to keep it low key.
We decided on five nights in the South of France, using Antibes as our base, and four nights in Lake Como, using Torno as our base.
We purposefully chose only two destinations for this trip. We only had about ten days to work with, and we really didn’t want to have to pack up and move more than once.
One of our new things is doing our best to limit “travel days.”
Over the years we’ve learned that no matter how “easy” that short flight, drive, or train ride might seem, between packing up, checking out, getting to your next spot, checking in, unpacking, freshening up… it kills the whole day. And obviously we’d have to multiply this tenfold when we factored in having a baby with us. So we chose two spots, requiring just one “travel day” in the middle of the trip.
If we had closer to two full weeks, we might have considered tacking on another spot. If that were the case, however, I’d still want to make sure we stayed for at least four nights in each location. This would limit the demands of constant packing and unpacking that would undoubtedly squash any feelings of rest and rejuvenation gleaned from the vacation in the first place.
Regarding the exact locations we chose: Antibes and the South of France couldn’t have been more baby friendly. It was easy to bring the stroller everywhere we went, and we found the area relaxing, charming and so, so much fun. More on this in blog posts to come.
Lake Como was hands down one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. However, the towns are full of stairs and aren’t very stroller friendly, so it’s not exactly the very best place to bring a baby. We rocked the Ergo carrier a ton, though, and Charlotte did great in that. I’m so glad we went there, but just a note for those trying to choose their own destinations.
My own two cents on where else I think it would be fun to bring a baby in Europe: the Bernese Oberland in Switzerland, the Black Forest in Germany, Salzburg or anywhere in Austria, the English countryside, and possibly Amsterdam and the surrounding area.
Consider renting a car
Again, this is a matter of personal preference, but we love renting cars in Europe. While taking the train is very fun and something everyone should do at least once, and flying horrible budget airlines is sometimes unavoidable and certainly a rite of passage every study abroad student should experience, renting a car allows the most freedom and flexibility when you are on a longer trip.
This holds true for traveling with a baby, too. Not only did having the car give us wiggle room in our itinerary and the ability to manage our days and day trips how we wanted to, we also didn’t feel like we had to stay airtight packed up all day every day, if that makes sense. We could use the car as our “home base” for all of Charlotte’s stuff, and it made the day more relaxed.
We were also able to make the 5 hour drive to Lake Como very early in the morning. We just shoved all our stuff in the car, and Charlotte slept almost the entire drive. This was much easier, we thought, than dealing with what would have been 3 different trains and transport to and from the train stations, etc.
Book an extra day or two at the beginning of the trip
You know when you land in a new place and you just feel horrible? And even the adrenaline of arriving somewhere you’ve been dreaming of for months isn’t enough to overcome your puffy face, greasy hair, and overall sense of dehydrated and jet-lagged disorientation?
Add to that a violently delirious baby, and you have a low-grade hurricane of a day in store.
Fortunately, Tyler and I were somehow smart enough to predict this and factored it into our booking five nights in Antibes. We knew that the first couple of days would be a wash.
Because we had the extra days at the front end of the trip to get Charlotte acclimated to the timezone and area, we didn’t feel pressured to do anything too ambitious.
We spent our first two days simply walking around in the fresh air, taking in our little city (as well as plenty of espresso and croissants). Once we got settled, we had three full days to really explore the surrounding towns and tackle our to-do list.
Choosing flight times
Our flight to Europe went as smooth as possible, but our flight home was a disaster. I think a lot of this had to do with the flight times.
On the way there, our flight left at 3pm. She’s still doing two naps a day, so we napped her in the carrier at the airport after we got through security to avoid her being cranky going into the flight.
We then had to just keep her awake and get her nice and tired for a few hours. She went to sleep for the “night” at 7pm our time and then slept (on me) for most of the flight after that (around 6-7 hours). We had to change plans in Frankfurt (always a migraine of an airport) and then finally landed in Nice the following afternoon. She catnapped on that second flight and then briefly again in the car, but we kept her awake after that until 7pm that night (Europe time).
On the way home, the flight left at 7am. We had to drive from Lake Como to the airport in Milan, so we had to get her out of bed at 4am. She napped here and there on the flight, but it was her “daytime,” so she wasn’t tired enough to sleep for more than an hour at a time. She was SO cranky because she hadn’t had a full night’s sleep the night before and basically had to have the longest travel day of all time.
The big takeaway was that we need to try to book both flights during her “night time.” A 12 hour flight just isn’t possible without a good long stretch of sleep in there. She literally went nuts being trapped on the plane for so long.
However, since a lot of the flights coming back our direction across the Atlantic leave in the morning (Europe time), that can be hard to manage. I think next time if we aren’t able to find an overnight flight, I would honestly have preferred to break up the long flight and switch planes on the east coast, rather than having one short flight to Frankfurt and then one long one to San Diego.
Request a bassinet on the plane
If your baby is still relatively small, you may want to plan ahead and book the seat at the very front of economy. On a lot of airlines, this seat is reserved for families with babies who might need to sleep in the bassinet. The bassinet attaches on to the wall in front of the seats.
As I mentioned before, Charlotte was just a bit too long to get really comfortable in the bassinet. She only lasted about an hour before she stirred and woke up from the strap being too tight (her toes were kind of jammed against the end of it too).
BUT–just our luck–both babies we sat next to slept for several hours in their bassinets. So I can vouch that it seems like a great option.
Call your airline way ahead of time to make sure you get the bassinet! We had to call a couple of times to confirm ours.
Book a two bedroom apartment
Ok, this is crucial. At least it was for us. We booked two bedroom apartments for both of our stays on this trip.
Charlotte has always been a light sleeper. We moved her into her own room when she was 8 weeks old, and she immediately started sleeping better. We did too. Since then, it’s been mildly disastrous anytime we’ve tried to sleep in the same room as her (see “Camping with a Baby in Yosemite” for more info).
As much as this trip was about Charlotte and bonding as a family, Tyler and I wanted to enjoy our time to ourselves too. Mom and Dad gotta party, right?
We knew that sharing a hotel room with her for this trip would just not work. We’d probably have to put the pack ‘n play in the bathroom or a closet, and then we’d still have to tiptoe around like Kim Possible after she went down each night. That sounds like the opposite of a vacation to me.
We weren’t able to do many dinners out, but having a two bedroom made it so we could put Charlotte down for the night in her own room around 7pm and then still have the whole night to eat take out pizza, drink wine, and watch Netflix. And then we could still get good sleep without worrying about her waking up.
In Lake Como, we were fortunate enough to work with a beautiful property that put us in a two bedroom apartment. But in Antibes, we paid for our own Airbnb and just went with a cheaper option that had two bedrooms, rather than a nicer one bedroom. I’m not even going to link it here because it was not a great situation, but it was worth it to have our own space and area to hang out after Charlotte went to bed.
The other nice thing about staying in apartments as opposed to a hotel room was having the kitchen. This allowed us to be able to make and store our own food when we needed to. Tyler made eggs every morning, and we’d have that with fruit before we set off for the day.
(This is a lesson we’ve learned the hard way too many times: never leave the house starving because then the entire morning–or worse, day–becomes about finding food. No one likes a hangry traveler. Or a hangry baby for that matter).
It gave us peace of mind that Charlotte had a full tummy before we started our big day of exploring, so having the kitchen at our disposal was vital.
If you are, in fact, considering booking an apartment for your travels, use this link to sign up with Airbnb and received $55 off your first stay–can’t beat a deal like that!
Request a pack ‘n play
When booking your lodging, make sure to request a pack ‘n play. I even filtered my Airbnb search to only include homes with a crib or pack ‘n play because a surprising amount don’t have them at all.
And then I followed up to make sure it would be set up before we arrived.
It’s probably worth it to ask about or request a high chair, too. We used ours at the Villa Matilda in Lake Como a handful of times, and it was so nice to have.
I packed both mine and Charlotte’s stuff in a large, hard-shelled suitcase and organized all of it into packing cubes. This made everything so much easier. I could just pull her cubes out and put them in her room and then put my own cubes in the drawers in our room. It also made packing up both times a breeze.
Manual breast pump
I’m embarrassed to say that I actually read this advice on a blog and just blatantly chose to ignore it. So please listen. (skip this if you’re not breastfeeding, of course).
My pump blew a fuse two seconds after I plugged it in right after we got there, and I immediately burst into tears. I was engorged and Charlotte was asleep and on the weirdest nursing schedule anyway. I was in so much pain, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it (well, ok, I tried to hand express but does that even actually work for anyone??). It was horrible.
The next day we drove 30 minutes out of our way to the French equivalent of BuyBuyBaby and purchased a manual hand pump. I have NEVER been so happy to pump than the second we got in the car that day after buying it, lol.
I strongly recommend bringing a manual pump if you’re breastfeeding. Mine blew a fuse even with the converter plugged into it. Also, because your body (and baby, for that matter) still thinks it’s in a different time zone, you can’t really count on your normal nursing schedule.
Even if you’re savvy enough to bring a more competent converter to handle an electric pump, I would still bring the manual pump to bring out with you on long days just in case.
Maybe this is obvious. But I didn’t think I needed one and I really, really did, so I just wanted to make sure I mention it here too.
This might not work for every baby, but it worked really well for Charlotte. Normally, Charlotte doesn’t nurse when we are out and about. We’ve had a long and sometimes trying journey with breastfeeding, and to this day she can really only focus on it when we are in a quiet place and she’s just waking up.
Up until this last month, I was pumping quite a bit still. And when we were out and about, I’d give her breast milk in a tiny Hydroflask. I know, it’s probably not pediatrician approved or very conventional, but it worked for us.
On the trip, I’d pump in the morning before we’d head out for the day and then give her the Hydroflask throughout the day. This way, I wouldn’t be engorged OR stressed about her getting her nutrients.
Mini sound machine
We love our mini sound machine and always keep it in the diaper bag in case Charlotte naps anywhere besides her nursery.
This little guy was especially helpful in Europe, as both of our apartments had thin walls.
FYI: This one is battery operated, but it won’t last an entire night. Bring a converter specifically for the sound machine so you can keep it plugged in where your baby is sleeping all night.
This brings me to my next point. We almost always wish we had brought an extra converter or two. And between our two phones, sound machine, blow dryer, camera battery charger, and our computer, we needed even more than usual on this trip.
These are very inexpensive, so make sure to bring a bunch.
Everyone said to bring a lightweight umbrella stroller, so we bought this fairly affordable and highly reviewed one on Amazon.
Before the trip, however, I kept thinking that we could probably just bring our normal, bigger stroller. I remember wondering, “how bad could it be to bring the big one??”
It only took a day of easily maneuvering this one through the cobblestone streets of Antibes to know we made the right choice. Tyler kept rolling his eyes at me, usually when we were squeezing through the farmers market or a tiny restaurant, and saying “Aren’t you glad we didn’t bring the Uppa stroller??”
And yes, okay, I was.
Also, a lot of times we’d use the stroller as Charlotte’s seat in cafes or while we were eating. Very handy.
I loved both the Solly wrap and Wild One sling when Char was smaller, but now that she’s bigger and so much more wiggly, we pretty much exclusively use the Ergo carrier.
Charlotte refuses to nap in the stroller, but she will fall asleep in less than 3 minutes if we put her in the Ergo facing toward us with the sun shade up. It’s SO nice. We were able to nap her every day in the carrier throughout the day.
Even if your baby does nap in the stroller like a champ (please tell me your ways), definitely bring a carrier. You’ll want the flexibility to use it if you’re in an area that’s not stroller friendly or if you do a hike, etc. We’d also put her in it getting on and off planes and ferries to make things easier.
We’d also use it if Char was too fussy to sit happily in the stroller, towards the end of the day or if she was hungry.
Baby food and snacks
I brought tons of little snacks for her, but I wish I had brought even more!
There would be so many times when Charlotte would get hungry before we had a chance to find a bite to eat. And Char is kind of like me but in a more extreme way: when she’s hungry, she’s starving and needs to eat right that second.
She mostly eats “real” foods at home–and still did eat whatever we ate at restaurants, but we brought a few of those squeeze pouches with different meals in them. She tore through them within the first couple of days, and I was wishing so badly we had brought way more. Our little market in Torno didn’t carry them, and we had barely any food for her on the flight home.
My advice would be to bring way more than you think you need. Furthermore, make sure to have a stockpile of snacks and pouches reserved exclusively for the flight back. I had to humiliatingly ask the flight attendants to spare any baby friendly food they had a couple of different times. The mom sitting next to me even felt bad for us and graciously donated a jar of German baby food to the cause. Not my best moment.
Jammies and sleep sack on the flight
I don’t know when I will learn, but those huge planes are always absolutely frigid.
We remembered at the last minute to pack Charlotte’s pajamas and her sleep sack in our carryon bag, and I’m so glad we did! Tyler and I were still freezing, but she was warm and toasty.
Everyone has a different opinion about this. IF, however, you are comfortable giving your baby a little infant Motrin when the going gets tough, make sure to pack it in your carryon to give to them if the air pressure changes bother them.
I’d love to pretend I’m one of those trendy minimalist moms whose babies have exactly three toys, all wooden, no color, and full of promise that their kids will turn out as calm and collected as their household.
Sure, no one likes a spoiled kid, but at the same time you have to provide some stimulation, am I right?
So, yes, I did purchase this $30 baby airplane kit from Etsy and have no regrets.
Upon receiving it in the mail, I realized that I likely could have made a few trips to The Dollar Store myself and slapped something similar together. But DIY in any form has never been a strength of mine.
The point is Charlotte was obsessed. And even if you don’t get this kit, I still suggest having a stash of brand new small toys and activities saved up for the trip and the plane ride in particular.
Clothing and accessories for all types of weather
I felt like I needed to add this one only because Tyler and I had to buy not one but two new pairs of shoes for Charlotte on this trip.
If you’re going to a less popular city where you might not have access to an HM on every corner, you might want to pack a few of those items that you know you would definitely miss should you need them for your baby. What I mean is…sun hats, extra shoes, a good jacket, a swimsuit. These baby things are harder to find in more remote locations.
While you’re there
Beating baby jet lag (lol)
In both my research and personal experience, there isn’t an exact formula to beating jet lag. There are just way too many factors at play.
For this trip, we basically followed the same rough guidelines with Charlotte as we do with ourselves: stay awake until 7pm the first night, stay hydrated, and make sure to get a healthy, nutrient-rich meal ASAP.
It took Charlotte three nights to get on the right schedule, both in Europe AND back home in California.
We did sort of a modified cry it out approach to get her used to the new schedule. I think I nursed her 4 times the first night, then 3, then 1, and then she was back to sleeping 12 hours. Obviously it was not pleasant those first couple of nights, but I was pretty proud of her for getting her act together in such a short amount of time.
I honestly didn’t find anything online about how to help a baby beat jet lag outside of the “wait to go to bed” rule, so I’m really curious if anyone else has any tried and true tricks.
Planning your days
When it comes to planning out your itinerary, less is more.
Obviously, you want to see and do as much as possible when you have spent the money and time to go on a big trip. But, as all parents know, babies like to call the shots. When a baby is done for the day, the day is done.
How we managed this was we would over plan each day. We did extensive research for each place we went and had everything starred on our Google maps that we might want to see and do.
Then when it came to that day, we would go in with a very flexible “we’ll see what we see” attitude. And if Charlotte was doing well, we’d keep going and do a little more, etc.
Again I’ll say: low expectations, positive mindset. (Is this the key to life?).
Maybe every other parent knows about this already, but bench seating can really save your life at a coffee shop or restaurant. We realized that a lot of places in Europe don’t have high chairs available, so your best bet is to lobby for a table with some kind of bench. (Also, as mentioned, your compact travel stroller can be a life saver too).
Char was at the age where she was totally happy with a tiny bit of space to crawl around and a couple of toys. One of us would sit on the bench with her and sort of put one leg up as a guard rail. This was a great way to let her get some wiggles out in a contained area.
Eating in restaurants
We mostly stuck to smaller cafes and takeout on this trip, but we did eat a handful of meals in nicer restaurants. We recommend always getting a reservation–at a time a bit earlier than you think your baby will be hungry AND a bit earlier than a normal busy time for a meal. For example, we made dinner reservations usually for right when the restaurant would open for the evening. This way, it wasn’t as crowded, and we’d arrive not hangry.
Our secret weapon during meals: we’d usually start Charlotte off with a couple of toys, but a lot of times we would give her a baguette to gnaw on. It sounds weird, but she was obsessed with teething on them! She would sit happily for thirty minutes just chomping on her baguette and looking at us. It was so cute.
Nap at home once in a while
While we did most of her naps out, Tyler and I made sure to give her a nice long nap back at “home” every other day. She slept really good at night once she beat the jet lag, but we knew she’d burn out from just taking a couple of cat naps in the carrier every day.
Having a couple of hours to rest and read at home was exactly what Tyler and I needed too.
Thanks for making it to the end, and I hope someone finds this helpful!!
While the shocking length of this post might suggest otherwise, I am so curious to know if we missed anything major! Let us know in the comments or on Instagram if you have any tips for traveling with a baby that we can remember for our next trip.