Our Family on the Ponte Santa Trinita in Florence.
No Regrets: Traveling with Kids
When we were preparing for our trip to Europe, I was extremely nervous about traveling with our kids. We have two boys, ages 3 and 1, and I worried about long flights, disrupted routines, sleepless nights and laundry. In the end, we had the absolute best time and made some amazing memories. Hopefully I can pass along a couple of tips that will help anyone planning a trip with their little ones.
As far as gear goes, the real hero of the trip was our stroller. We have a Baby Jogger City Select with two seats. Our 3 year old rarely gets in it anymore, but I brought his seat *just in case* and I was so glad that I did. Both kids spent a ton of time in the stroller plus it has lots of space to store diaper bags, groceries, sunscreen…you name it. It’s a big stroller and we gate-checked it for free every time we got on a plane – 5 flights in total over the 3 weeks. I have the travel carry-bag for it and we took it apart each flight in the minutes leading up to boarding. On our way home, our flight out of Newark Airport was unexpectedly delayed before it was eventually cancelled, right at our kids’ bedtime. I honestly do not know what we would have done if we hadn’t had the stroller with us – they both fell asleep easily and comfortably while we waited for a plane (that never came). Honorable mention goes to our Ergo, which also got a lot of use.
Stroller in action in Rome.
For the flights, our one year old was in his car seat. If you are bringing a car seat to be used on the airplane check with your airline ahead of time to make sure your seat is allowed. Every airline has different regulations, especially when you are traveling across borders (British Airways is different than United, for example). For my 3-year-old, I purchased the AmSafe CARES Airplane Harness, and I can’t say enough good things about it (check it out, http://bit.ly/1sjsxxa). This was a great alternative to bringing along his car seat as well, which we did not expect to need.
Lastly, as it turned out, we ended up renting a car to drive around Tuscany, so needed a car seat for our 3-year-old. My mom was meeting up with us, and brought the RideSafer Delight harness from SafeRide4Kidz (http://bit.ly/2nxWBZo). Compared to the rental options available to us, I determined this to be the safest and best option. I did a lot of research and reading on this product prior to using it and felt confident my son was safe. We really liked the vest, and it was certainly easier to travel with than a full-sized car seat. This vest is not approved for use in Canada, but is in the United States (where my Mom lives in case you’re wondering). If you consider using it, please do your own research, and ensure your child is the right height/weight for a good fit. Read the Amazon reviews for more insight.
During takeoff and landing both kids had a drink to help their ears adjust to the changing pressure. There is nothing worse than ear pain, except for a baby with ear pain.
We tried to be strategic in picking afternoon or nighttime flights (during nap or even bedtime), and that helped a lot. Our first long flight (6 hours) was an overnight to London from Halifax and both kids slept the whole way. The flights home were, sadly, much longer (10 hours, Rome to Newark) and started much earlier in the day.
Our one year old slept about half the trip from Rome to Newark in 90 minute intervals and was ok to manage. We had snacks and toys to distract him and we walked the aisles with him in desperate times. He did not love being stuck in his seat for that long, and honestly who could blame him? We tried to save treats for when things seemed to be headed for disaster, and for the most part it worked. He did not spend a significant amount of time fussing, which was a huge relief.
Our 3-year-old spent most the flight watching movies, and for the first time ever, I did not care. I am pretty stingy about screen time, but I allowed him (and myself) the flexibility to do whatever it took to just get home. At one point, he said to me “wow I’m really watching a lot today!”. I had to laugh, even he recognized that this was A LOT more than normal. I bought him over-the-ear headphones for the trip, and HIGHLY recommend you consider doing the same if you think your kid will spend anytime listening to anything. (I bought these, http://amzn.to/2rGpzJ3 and shipped to Calais) *make sure you read reviews ahead of time, many of the toddler ones that are volume limiting are not loud enough to be heard over airplane engine noise!
We brought the kids’ favorite stuffed animals and blankets, but of all the toys we packed for the flight, hands down our favorite and most used were the Melissa & Doug Water Wow Books. I bought ours at Ana Banana and Shoppers in Saint John. If you are looking for more ideas on toys or ideas to entertain small kids on a plane, this blogpost (http://bit.ly/2rYu9CJ) was a great resource for me.
Random tip: Right before we left several stories broke in the news that made me nervous to get on a plane with my kids. We’ve all seen the horror stories. Needing reassurance, I took to Twitter and tweeted airlines and airports some questions. They all responded within minutes. Twitter is a great tool to get an answer to a question or even resolve an issue in a hurry without spending hours on the phone. Tweet tweet.
Plan Ahead (and ask questions!)
Leading up to the trip I spent a lot of time reading about other families that travel with their kids. I talked to my own friends that had travelled with their own kids and I researched Instagram hashtags of the areas we were going to be in. I read articles, blogs and stories that other people had to share, and I reached out to total strangers if I had any questions – AND THEY WERE TOTALLY WILLING TO HELP. It was a great reminder to me how all you need to do sometimes is ask!
Almost everywhere we stayed on our trip I had booked through AirBnb or HomeAway (worked great for us – highly recommend!). I did a lot of research ahead of time on which neighborhoods we should try to stay in, and I ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS read the reviews before booking a place to stay. I simply cannot stress this enough – read the reviews! If people routinely complained about late night street noise, or broken air conditioning or terrible wi-fi then those places weren’t going to work for us, and I kept on looking for a place that would.
The view from our very kid-friendly & very safe balcony in Sanremo.
When looking for a neighborhood, I really wanted to be near a place that had kid-friendly activities, restaurants and a grocery store. I didn’t want to be in an area that was loud at night, but I did want to be close to attractions and tourist venues. In some of the bigger cities we visited, Rome & Florence for instance, there are an overwhelming number of options so doing a little homework can be helpful.
I also made sure to contact the owners of each place ahead of time and ask for a playpen/travel cot (deal-breaker for us if the answer was no) and a highchair if possible – even if the listing did not explicitly say they were available. Other things you might want to make sure a place has is a bathtub, a washing machine, and a working elevator if you’re up a few floors.
Ugh. Packing is a nightmare. Aside from the usual stuff – like clothes – I brought along a small pharmacy, in case anything happened while we were away, and of course in our first week away our baby had a fever. I brought medicine, band aids, allergy pills, a nasal bulb – basically anything I thought I could possibly want to have on hand.
I also packed about ten full bottles of sunscreen and went through all of them. My crew is fairly pale, and some of us very bald, and it was hot and sunny our whole trip. Sunscreen is a way of life for us at home, and I came prepared. Speaking of sun safety, I knew we would be doing a lot of swimming so I brought along UVA/UVB safe swimsuit sets for both kids. They are amazing. I got ours at Costco in the winter, but they are this brand (http://amzn.to/2sZoSfD). And hats too of course! For everyone!
Based on reviews I read on AirBnb, I also brought my own laundry detergent packs, a small paring knife, some clean microfibre cloths, a bottle brush, 2 baby bottles and 2 Munchkin 360 cups for my toddler. I also brought about 10 days’ worth of diapers and wipes, which took up a fair bit of room in one suitcase, but then also freed up a bunch of space to bring things home we bought while over there.
I did not bring or use a purse. We had a backpack with us that held our passports, phones, wallets, diapers, wipes and snacks for the kids. We simply never let it out of sight. Before we left home, I made photocopies of all our passports and left them on top of our fridge, so a neighbor could get them if we ran into trouble and had them stolen or lost. Be open to new experiences and people, but be cautious and protect yourself and your travel documents!
The only other packing tip I would make is to bring comfortable shoes for everyone, that you can walk long distances in. I brought the kids’ closed-toe hiking sandals for the trip, plus sneakers and socks. My husband and I each brought walking sandals, sneakers and a pair of “fancy” shoes. I didn’t bring flip-flops or something easy/attractive to wear on shorter walks and I regretted it. I hate to suggest that everyone pack 4 pairs of shoes, but I wish I had.
If you are a ketchup lover, bring your own! Apparently it’s just not the same.
When Things Go Wrong
Sadly, you just can not plan for everything. For us, it all came apart on the trip home. We spent ten hours on a flight from Rome, only to wait in Newark Airport for TEN MORE HOURS before our final flight was eventually cancelled. This was a disaster on so may levels – we only had a few extra sets of diapers/wipes, we had NO clean clothes, and we had burned through all our snacks. Plus we were completely exhausted.
I cannot even explain how mad/sad/tired/defeated we felt. We really didn’t want to make the situation worse by letting our kids reflect our anxiety, so we just kept moving forward like nothing was wrong and spoiler alert: we made it home. We received a lot of help at this point from the airlines (both United & Air Canada), the hotel, and Newark & Toronto airport staff and ultimately, we felt very grateful and so happy to finally get home.
9pm, In the Toronto Airport, running to our final flight to Halifax.
Whatever your travel situation looks like, just remember it will not last forever. We did our absolute best to make sure it was a positive experience for us, our kids and other passengers but some things are beyond your control. Do not spend time worrying about what might go wrong, and don’t feel guilty for taking your kids anywhere with you. Focus on making amazing memories with your family, and be willing to roll with a few punches!
You can see and read more about our trip on my Instagram feed @ingridelyse. If you have specific questions about this article or the places we visited, do not hesitate to get in touch!
Ingrid Munroe lives in Saint John, New Brunswick with her husband and two boys, ages three and one. She has a degree from UNB and currently stays home with her kids full-time. She is a homebody who has an equal love for both nature and Netflix, and who can often be found knitting or writing in her very limited spare time.