We recently got back from a 10 day trip to France and Russia, and when I tell people we brought our almost one year old, they’re shocked. Everyone wants to know how traveling with a baby went, and honestly, it wasn’t bad at all. I think that a sightseeing type of trip is probably easier with an infant (versus a beach), as she spent a lot of time snoozing in her stroller while we toured the city. We typically woke up, ate breakfast, walked a mile or two to a museum, church, site, etc. and she would nap while we were there, then we’d go to a park and she would play, then eat lunch, then another tourist activity (and nap), followed by another park then dinner and bedtime. Isla was very well behaved so long as we stuck to this routine! The hardest part of the vacation was definitely the flight to Paris (with a layover in Frankfurt), but I learned my lessons and the return trip was much better. I’m sharing some of my travel tips today so hopefully you don’t have to learn the hard way!
- Rent an apartment versus staying in a hotel, if possible. If it’s more convenient to stay at the latter, then look for a hotel with a decent suite rate. We stayed in a suite at the Hotel Novotel St. Petersburg, which was so nice because we could put Isla down in her room, then spend the rest of the evening in our room and not worry about waking her up. I’ve also read that you can have them sleep in the bathroom, but that seems like a challenge to me. We rented an apartment with Airbnb in Paris, and had the best experience! Look for one with two rooms and a kitchen and ideally, a washing machine too (buy these Purex 3-in-1 sheets if you have one!)! Also, check to see if there is an elevator, and if not, how many stairs do you need to climb! I forgot to check, and we lucked out on only climbing two sets (which was still a lot!).
Outside our Airbnb rental – beware of the stairs! Many apartments don’t have elevators!
- Book your transport prior to traveling. We booked private cars for both Paris (with Super Shuttle) and St. Petersburg and requested infant car seats. Both drivers arrived with forward facing carseats, which is not what we do in America, but sometimes, you’ve got to just relax. I was pretty exhausted when we got to Paris, so just went with it, then quickly learned that babies in France don’t have to face backwards until 2 (as recommended here). The US has strict safety regulations (which are great!), but babies survive just fine in other countries. Ask your hotel or search online for reputable car transportation agencies. With this said, if you’re traveling with a newborn, I highly recommend you lug that car seat with you! I was much less stressed with a 1 year old than a 3 month old with regard to car seat positions!
- Plan your day before you head out of the apartment/hotel. As I mentioned here, I’m pretty type-A with our agendas, so we were prepared for this one. But it’s a good idea to know what you’re going to be doing for the day when you step out in the morning, unless you plan on returning for naps. Will you be going to two museums? Where will you eat lunch? These decisions are much more stressful on the go when you’ve got a hungry baby, so knowing ahead of time is really, really helpful.
- Bring a travel crib. I’ve heard horror stories about hotel cribs, and since we were staying in an apartment for part of the trip, we wanted to bring our own crib. We used a BABYBJÖRN Travel Crib Light, and it’s amazing. Everyone needs one. We also use it at home from time-to-time as a playpen. It folds easily into a travel bag (which only weighs 13 pounds), which is easy to carry around (as in, nine million times easier than a Pack-n-Play!). I highly recommend you buy one of these before traveling – Isla loves it.
- Take a good city/walking stroller. Some people recommend bringing an umbrella stroller since they are light, but we brought our BabyJogger City Mini, which was perfect as it’s light and has great storage. We used a Mommy Hook and hung our BABYBJORN Travel Crib Light bag on the handles!
- Bring an umbrella and/or weather cover for your stroller. I suggest bringing a rain canopy for the stroller you choose to bring, just in case it rains. And make sure to pack umbrellas for you too! We got rained on and forgot the weather canopy, so we had to carry Isla, hold umbrellas and push a stroller that was getting wet. Don’t make this mistake!
- Pack a baby carrier. We adore our BABYBJORN Carrier We (see review post here). Although we had Isla in the stroller a lot because she was napping, we also toted her around (now on our babies) in the baby carrier, as public transport in many older cities (like Paris) is not stroller friendly. Plus, babies enjoy getting to look around and see what we’re seeing too. We tucked our carrier in the stroller pouch and pulled it out when needed.
- Be prepared for no high chairs/baby seats in restaurants. We learned the hard way that high chairs do not exist in popular Parisian restaurants – mainly because there is no room! When we got to St. Petersburg, we thought they just didn’t use them in European restaurants, but we randomly asked and they brought us a proper high chair (not like the wooden ones in US restaurants). So we learned that you need to ask – the worst they can do is say no! If there are no baby seats, I recommend getting a bench and letting them crawl around while you watch and eat, or rotate between who holds the baby and who eats. You’ve got to compromise!
- Buy diapers when you land. We bought diapers in Paris and in St. Petersburg, as we didn’t want to lug them all around the world. I highly recommend you buy diapers when you land in your destination, as they’re a super easy thing to find (any pharmacy will have them!) and will save you a lot of space. Bring about 10 with you though, just in case!
- Bring tons of extra blankets. Isla is obsessed with her Aden + Anais muslin blankets and wants to be holding them at all times (which are a total trip hazard while walking, but she loves them). We brought four to Europe, and I wish I had sacrificed her excess clothes for more blankets, because we couldn’t wash them fast enough! Inevitably, they’ll fall out of the stroller, get dropped at a restaurant, get soiled by food, etc. I recommend you bring as many comfort items as possible!
Loving her blankets… if only we brought four more!
- Wear your baby through security. Ugh, we learned our lesson the hard way. You can walk through security wearing your baby in a carrier, but if your baby is finally fast asleep after being awake most of a 10 hour flight, they will make you take her out to go through the security checkpoint (I almost cried). So baby carrier, yes. Stroller, no. Remember this!
- Bring a pacifier clip. Isla doesn’t use a pacifier often during the day (or really much at night), but we wanted to have it with us all the time while traveling. We bought a pacifier clip to use on the plane so that it didn’t fall on the floor the whole flight, and we’re so glad we did. We lost it mid-travels somehow, and bought another one in Russia that was not-so-good, but did the trick. I think this is an important one for all paci-babies!
- Call ahead to request bulkhead seating and a bassinet on international flights. I am glad I called two days before we left for the trip, as I assumed that when you indicated you were flying with an infant, you got the bulkhead seat with the bassinet. This not the case! Make sure to call to reserve those seats and ask for the tiny bassinet (which Isla didn’t really sleep in much, but played in it for hours and hours).
- Go to the front of the line. Most airlines allow for priority boarding for people flying with babies and children, so check to see if this is the case before everyone lines up. I’ve also read people’s suggestions to board last, but we liked getting settled in, going to the restroom, making sure our bags fit, etc. before all of the other passengers boarded too.
- Befriend a flight attendant. On all of our flights, Isla made this tip easy because she likes to wave to everyone that will look at her (and those who won’t too!). We picked one or two “allies,” on each plane, and they made life so much easier for us. They brought Isla toys, drinks, snacks, blankets, and one sweet lady even brought her a metal spoon in a cup of ice, as we didn’t have teething toys in our hand luggage. Isla cried a bit on the first flight, and since I kept having to leave to throw up, I was very emotional and started crying. Two Lufthansa flight attendants came over and made Isla laugh while playing silly games with her, like blowing up a rubber glove and acting like it was a chicken. Be sweet to those who have influence!
- Bring a small noise machine. We use the Cloud B Sound Sheep at home, but bought this SoundSpa On-The-Go for the trip and it was a lifesaver. We used it on the plane (why, oh why, are announcements so loud?), as well as in the hotel. It’s wonderful.
- Buy new toys. We bought Isla this cell phone, this remote control, a little rattle and a new stuffed animal and packed them in our hand luggage duffel bag. She was excited to play with all of them (and I swear that people prefer beeping noises to a crying baby).
- Download movies and games to your iPad. I recommend one of the many bubble popping apps, and we downloaded Frozen and Cars on iTunes, which Isla loved (and helped put her to sleep!). We don’t give her an iPad at home, so it was a treat and she loved it. We also watched a whole lot of Baby Einstein in order to make her sleepy at night!
- Travel in whatever is most comfortable. We were flying over night for both flights, so we decided to have Isla wear her pajamas the whole time. Don’t worry about what’s fashionable or what others will think – do what’s best for your little one!
- Bring small books. Sasha will laugh at this one, as I brought three books on the plane with us, and read them each 10,000 times. Isla laughs every time at Doggies, but her favorite one to read was a small Fisher-Price counting animal board book I found at Target the day before we left. Kids love repetition, so I wouldn’t worry about bringing a lot of heavy books. 1-3 should be perfect.
- Bring a water bottle and get lots of refills. Being on an airplane dehydrates all humans, not just adults. Isla guzzled water from her Camelbak on all of the flights, and we had the flight attendants keep filling it up for us. Remember to keep them hydrated! If your baby isn’t drinking water yet, bring lots of milk or plan to breastfeed more than normal.
- Breastfeed or use pacifier on take-off and landing. In order to prevent your baby’s ears from popping, try to get them to breastfeed, drink from a bottle or suck on a pacifier while you gain and lose altitude. Isla has refused to do this a number of times, and she’s been okay, but I feel more comfortable when she does!
- Walk the aisles. Little ones need to stretch their legs too! Obviously a three month old won’t be walking by themselves, but if your baby will take steps holding your hands (or solo), then go with them up and down the aisles. I think they get major cabin fever (pun intended!) in the seat, and it’s good for them to roam around a bit.
- Germs are okay. I am not a germaphobe and never have been, so I was not bothered in the least with Isla crawling all over the airplane floor, but I know some moms would be. It’s sort of unrealistic to think that a baby will literally stay in your lap for over 1-2 hours, so my recommendation would be to let go of your germ fears and let them adventure. It’ll be okay, and you can sanitize their hands later!
- Breastfeed anywhere. I’m not shy here in America, but was even less shy in European countries. I would breastfeed just about anywhere we went (forget the tent, I just used one of Isla’s blankets!). Your baby’s hunger is more important than your modesty!
- Acclimate yourselves to the local time zone immediately. In Houston, Isla goes to bed at 6:30pm and wakes up at 7:30am, but we knew that a lot of places in Europe wouldn’t open that early and that we’d like to ideally eat dinner at a restaurant (earlier than most, but still not at 5pm). So when we landed, we immediately adjusted Isla to Parisian time, but since she was jetlagged, we moved her bed time to around 8:30pm and she slept until 9:30am most mornings. This worked well for us! If you’re only changing an hour or so, I would just keep your baby on their same schedule.
- Pack good walking shoes if you’re baby is on-the-go. We went with a number of cute little Gap sandals and ‘pretty tennis shoes’ (i.e. not very functional), and ended up buying a cute pair of Parisian walking shoes, which cost a lot but she wore them every single day of the trip. They’re so dirty now, but we are so relieved that she got good wears out of them! Don’t go for form over function with shoes!
- Find parks. We had all of the parks mapped out in our itineraries, as it was important for us to have Isla roam around, play on swings, chase birds, etc. as much as possible on this busy site-seeing trip. We had a very good balance (as mentioned earlier), and she stayed happy due to her many grassy explorations.
Bon voyage! Please email me if you have any other questions!