Imagine what it would be like to travel to Italy and enjoy Tuscany and Rome and all of the beautiful sights with your baby and your preschooler. How do you feel about that? How does the thought of an overnight flight and traveling across the ocean sound? If you are like, “Sign me up!”, then you’re going to love what we’re talking about today!
But if you’re also like, “Oh my gosh, that sounds like a total heck no for me!” then stick around. Because if you have the inkling to travel, but you’re thinking, “No, I need to wait till my kids are older,” I am such a proponent of NOT waiting and enjoying these times. Yes, there are situations and ages where it’s a little bit easier than others, but I still think that making the memories and doing the darn thing is always worth it!!
This week on the podcast I invited Krista Jones, who is a friend, an incredibly talented website designer, and a mom to Bennett and Jack, as we talk through their travels to Italy.
What I love about our conversation is that we sit and talk through the packing, the traveling, the choosing the locations, cities to avoid in Italy if you have young kids… we talk through it all.
I’m sharing all 13 tips below for traveling internationally with a baby and toddler, but if you want to listen to our full conversation, click here – I think you may find that Europe is way more accessible than you think!!
And before I jump in – What if you could have an entire packing list and airplane prep list ready to go at your fingertips, all of the information on how to handle international or domestic time change, and so much more? I got you covered in The Little Z’s Travel Guide! We have a complete guide ready for you to download and use so that travel can be a lot more stress-free for your family. Click here to grab yours today!
TIP #1: IT MIGHT BE CHEAPER THAN YOU THINK
People always look at us crazy when we say we’re taking our kids to Europe. When we were looking at traveling to Italy, thinking this was our next travel destination, we looked at prices and it was amazing to realize that if you divide this by the families that you would normally go with to the Outer Banks, it was actually CHEAPER!
We’ve used points to get flights or hotels and there was one trip where we stayed in a four star palace in Portugal, for less than we had to pay at a Hampton Inn in Richmond the week before for a wedding. It just doesn’t even compare – a normal everyday hotel versus a palace. And it’s less expensive. It’s just such a big difference.
And of course, people are so friendly, it’s beautiful, the food is amazing, and you get to make amazing memories with your family!
TIP #2: FIND KID-FRIENDLY LOCATIONS
Krista shared more on the podcast episode but on their recent trip to Italy, they planned to go to a few less spots as they’d been able to go to in the past. And they chose quieter and more kid-friendly locations because of their kids’ ages!
For example, Tuscany is kid-friendly and beautiful and they found they could rent an Airbnb for a week to use it as homebase while they drove to other places, like Rome and Assisi. Other places, like Positano, are harder to maneuver because of the thousands of steps and needing to help their boys get up and down them, so they chose to not go there this time.
TIP #3: CHECK WHICH BABY GEAR FLIES FREE
I think that a lot of the time, even when you’re just thinking about going to the beach, and you look at everything you need to pack, you’re like, “WOW, this is so much stuff! How could I possibly carry it across the ocean?” But when you get to the airport, you check it all, and it goes to your final destination — you’re not lugging it everywhere!
And a lot of people don’t realize this, but definitely check with your airline to see what will fly free, because usually up to a certain amount of baby gear can fly free per child – and usually it’s more than what you need!
TIP #4: PACK SMART WITH THE CAR SEAT
You may not want to travel with the carseat on shorter flights or depending on how your child will do in it, but if you want to bring one for the trip in general, you can check it!
When it comes to car seats, one of our biggest tips is to bring lightweight car seats (like the Cosco Scenera which Krista recommended) and carseat covers that go around them so it turns it into a kind of suitcase. I wouldn’t put anything super valuable in it, but you can include diapers or blankets – things that if it gets lost won’t be too big of a deal.
TIP #5: RENT A PACK ‘N PLAY WHEREVER POSSIBLE
Pack ‘n plays can be so bulky and heavy, so we definitely recommend renting them wherever possible! The rental cars in Europe are really, really tiny and you’ll want to try to maximize your space as much as possible.
And remember, the SlumberPod is your friend!! You can put that up over a regular sized pack ‘n play and have a separation from you and baby – not only does it keep everything nice and dark in there, but baby won’t see you when they wake up or stir overnight!
TIP #6: PACK LIKE A MINIMALIST
Especially if you have an Airbnb, you can wash your clothes! Or you can find a laundromat that’s affordable for a wash and fold service. So you can be a minimalist when it comes to packing your clothes.
Plus, you won’t want to have extra large luggage because a lot of times there’s not much space for them, even in giant 9-passenger vans like we’ve rented before! (Krista and I talked about how we aren’t picky about suitcases, either, so there’s no pressure to go crazy on luggage!)
TIP #7: WHAT TO CARRY-ON TO SOOTHE BABIES
You know I love my sound machines for sleep and you can get a portable white noise machine for the plane – whether that’s the carrier or diaper bag or whatever you have. And even if you don’t normally use formula, it’s a great option to bring on the plane in case baby wants to eat more than normal and you’re not able to nurse as much as they’d like. Since there’s not a lot you can do to soothe a baby when they’re super upset, that can work wonders!!
TIP #8: ENTERTAIN THEM WELL ON THE PLANE
It’s always so helpful to have a variety of snacks because airplane meals and snacks are often unpredictable and airport food might not be super available!!
Also, you can go to the dollar store ahead of time and buy a bunch of different things to keep the kids busy. Things like coloring books, or cheap little toys you can pull out periodically as they get bored. In-flight movies, of course, can be fun, but you can also bring an iPad with downloaded movies and kid headphones!!
Don’t rely on the airport airplane headphones, because they’re adult size. I learned that very quickly! Krista recommends these child sized headphones for travels. Just be sure to bring a little headphone converter!!
TIP #9: HELP THEM SLEEP ON OVERNIGHT FLIGHTS
Muslin blankets, as always, are my forever recommendation! And of course, the sound machine can help, especially if you can have it with you as you rock baby or walk up and down the aisles to soothe to sleep.
We used this baby carrier often to help Bennett fall asleep.
And, for basically the only time I’ll ever recommend it – when you’re traveling internationally or on the airplane, it doesn’t feel natural to sleep when they’re telling you to sleep, so that’s when I’d say yes, it’s okay to use some melatonin!!
TIP #10: ADJUST TO THE LOCAL TIME
I’ll be honest, you’re going to be really tired! Push through that day when you arrive – give naps when you can – and then everyone go to bed, sleep, and stay on the local time for the rest of the trip. It’ll help you reset faster.
TIP #11: BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR SCHEDULE
Once you’re there, flexibility is your friend!! At home, you might be pretty strict with their nap times and following their schedules, but once you’re traveling, you may need to catch more naps on the go. Having a double stroller can help because then they can nap in the stroller – and just know that you may need to do less outings than you would do pre-kids!! Embrace it!!
This double stroller was used and loved so much by Krista’s family on their travels! Remember that in Europe doorways and walkways are narrow so having a side-by-side double stroller may be more difficult than a front and back double stroller.
TIP #12: GO WITH FRIENDS OR FAMILY
It’s really important if you’re going on these big trips, not to just go with your small family unit, but to have other people with you to help you – your friends or family. It really does make a big difference to share that parenting load!! Bonus points if your friends have kids your kids’ ages and you have built in playmates.
TIP #13: KEEP REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS ABOUT ALL THE WALKING
It’s really hard to walk and explore a lot and to wait in lines… So look for things that may not be as crowded like some of the off-sites or smaller towns that let you really get a feel for the culture.
Having a double stroller (front and back) that you can easily fold up or an umbrella stroller (or even baby wearing if your baby is young enough!) will help you navigate the lines. Remember that everything in Europe is smaller, the beds are smaller, the cars are smaller, so you don’t want to take up a ton of room, but having a stroller gives the kids a spot to sit and ride or even nap!! And be sure to check if you can use the metro or other public transportation to get around easily too so you’re not walking all day.
WOULD YOU DO IT AGAIN?!
We share more in the podcast episode, but both Krista and I say absolutely YES! We’d do it again in a heartbeat.
I think most people, when you talk about traveling internationally, are thinking, “Do your kids even soak that in?” And no, I don’t think they really soak it in. You’re never going to have 100% competency when you’re a child. But they get a small glimmer of seeing the world and seeing that there’s differences!! Doing it together as a family and seeing it all through your kids’ eyes is really cool.
That’s a value that I know Chad and I want to give our children and our families. God has created this huge world. Let’s enjoy it!! Let’s go see it!
It really is SO possible for parents and for families to enjoy these types of vacations and not feel like you missed out because you’re not in your 20s anymore, or you’re not empty nesters. In America, what a lot of people think is to travel internationally when you’re really young, or when your kids are out of the house. But there’s this magical time when your kids are young and when your family is young to be able to go and enjoy things that you can’t experience elsewhere.
And if you have been thinking about traveling internationally with your family, but find it just seems daunting, I want to encourage you – it really doesn’t have to be!! So get out there and try traveling internationally with a baby and a toddler!
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