We just booked another summer vacation in Europe with our toddler because, yes, we are insane. Either enough time has passed since our last trip and we’ve forgotten what it was like, or (and the reason for this blog) we feel like we are now experts by learning from our previous, huge, mistakes. Because I could write a short novel on traveling with baby/toddler I've broken this down into three blogs; Flights, Hotels and Itineraries.
Last summer we took a ten day trip to Italy with our then thirteen month old. This upcoming summer we will be vacationing in Spain with our toddler who will be two, gasp. Here is why our trip is going to be amazing or at least bearable (with incredible Instagram photos).
Flights! They seem so trivial but are a HUGE aspect of traveling with a baby or toddler. You can have the most incredible trip ever but if it’s bookended by excruciating, vile, long flights then you might as well stay home. Here are my thoughts on making this part of your travel easier;
Direct flights, overnight: This really is the best scenario. We did this on our way to Italy and it wasn’t awful. Maybe you're thinking 'a layover will offer a nice opportunity for everyone to stretch their legs and eat..' nope. It's like a bandaid, DIRECT, just rip it off and be done.
Seating: If you can afford to get your little one under two their own seat then by all means please do! You'll notice most airlines offer discount pricing for that type of ticket. Augusta will be two when we go on our trip to Spain so we bought her a ticket (discounted). Other strategies to ensure you'll have enough space include;
-Securing a bulkhead bassinet. Call the airline ahead of time (these tend to get snatched up quickly so the sooner you call to reserve the better) and ask them for one. We booked our flights to Italy last minute so the airline told us we couldn't get one over the phone. Upon arrival we checked with the representative at the gate and they got us into a row with one. Always ask, ask, ask!
-Is your little traveler too big for the infant bassinet (we found this out the hard way)? Upon the advice of the airline we booked a window seat and an aisle seat in a far back row of three, banking on the chance no one would take that middle seat (for our flight home). It worked and we ended up having three seats to ourselves without having to purchase a seat for Augusta. If someone would have purchased that seat I would have pleaded with the gate representative to put us anywhere with three open seats. Mind you we did not bring a car seat with us. If you bring a car seat (which we'll be doing for our upcoming trip) the gate rep will check it for you if they can't find an open seat. I highly recommend purchasing a seat for your little one if you're bringing a car seat. For more information on traveling with a travel stroller and car seat read here.
Carry Ons: Normally I'm all about trying to get everything into carry ons, but when you are wrangling a baby it's nice to have as little as possible weighing you down. I purchased this diaper backpack for our trip and I haven't stopped using it since. It's not too big but big enough to cram all of the essentials you'll need. It's also very comfortable and easy to wipe/wash clean. I also like that it's black so you don't have to feel guilty throwing it down on the dirty cobblestones of Europe. I manned the diaper bag and Augusta, while my husband carried a shoulder bag with things for us (laugh now, as if we had an opportunity to read our books or listen to a podcast). Things that I recommend you pack; blanket or other sleep gear to help baby sleep on plane (we brought this travel sized sound machine), bottles/formula/sippy cup, tons of snacks, books with flaps, ipad with child case loaded up with episodes of Sesame Street/Barney/Daniel Tiger/Whatever your child likes and apps like Peekaboo Barn, extra diapers and wipes, an extra set of clothes (we travel in pajamas, again trying to encourage her to sleep), and finally toys that are small and that will keep your little busy. Jenny has great suggestions for toys to pack. Need a helpful packing list? Here's one.
Flight Friends: Make friends with the flight attendants and let them know well in advance if you'll be needing a bottle heated up or help with anything. Also check with them to see which bathrooms are equipped with a changing table. I've heard of people who make little packets for the people seated around them on planes (with earplugs, snacks etc...). That's a great idea, but who has time for that!? I just yell loudly, "it's a pity she's teething so badly today" when getting settled to prepare everyone for what's to come. Scope the scene for other children. We walked up and down the aisles MANY times on our flight home and made friends with several other toddlers which kept Augusta somewhat sane. I also helped another mom out when her baby wouldn't stop crying and offered her a few of our pretzel rods which the baby happily sucked on for the next hour, quietly.
Take Shifts: My husband and I literally would set the clock and say, “your turn” on the flight back for fifteen minute intervals. I’d suggest increasing the shift time but my husband couldn’t handle more than fifteen and I happen to be able to take down a glass of wine in that amount of time so it worked. We’d pass her to the other’s lap and take a breather or whoever’s turn it was would do the airplane loop and walk the aisle with her for the six hundredth time. Shifts.
For the take off make sure to have bottle, boob, pacifier, sippy cup ready! But don't offer it too soon. I once made the mistake of giving Augusta her bottle during the safety instructions and by the time the plane had taxied she was done with it. She cried the entire take off and I had no more tricks up my sleeve.
Most importantly remember to keep your calm. If you need to step into the bathroom to have a cry or swearing monologue it's totally fine. Keep your eye on the prize and know that you're about to have an amazing vacation (or you'll finally be home)!