Recently my husband, in-laws, son and I went on a two week European vacation. Folks have asked me how the trip went…especially after I mentioned that my 22 month old went with us. The trip was amazing, awful, wonderful and horrific all in one. It made me question whether or not we should take my son on a trip like that in the near future again. But in sitting down with a friend in Oslo, Norway, he pointed out that isn’t that description really any trip that you take?
I thought about his words, especially after he told me the harrowing 36 hour journey that he had endured to get to Europe, fraught with delays, refueling, missed planes and so forth.
The truth is, he’s right. Traveling with our toddler was certainly cringe worthy at times, but overall the trip was worth it, amazing and we got through it. It’s an experience that I would definitely do over again. Particularly armed with grandparents.
So how’d we do it?
Recommendation number one: Travel with your parents or in-laws (or both)!
My sister (who met us in Berlin) correctly observed that five adults to one toddler seemed like the appropriate ratio for vacation. It was super helpful having my in-laws with us. First of all, we love traveling together, but second of all it was extra hands and extra baggage. They brought a bag full of tricks and toys for my son. On the plane, in the hotels, on the trains, on the boats, it was two extra sets of hands. We basically played “pass the baby” the entire trip. It helped everyone keep their sanity. Particularly on an overnight transatlantic plane ride where one certain toddler opted out of sleeping.
Recommendation number two: Be Flexible
My husband and I put a lot of thought on whether to carseat or not on the plane. I wasn’t sure if we needed to bring the carseat in general. In retrospect, I would have opted out of it, I think. Since our son is under two, he’s allowed to sit in the lap of an adult for takeoff and landing. The carseat worked for the first two hours of the plane, but after that…it didn’t. We brought our Graco 3 in 1 nautilus because we had purchased a ticket for our son. We didn’t have to buy a seat for him since he’s still under two, but we thought having the extra seat would be good given that he’s bigger and wants to be everywhere and into everything.
G didn’t want to be in the seat after that. So it was effectively taking up space. For the landing, on international flights it’s a required law that they be seated with these extra infant belts. The belts loop through the adult belt and then you snap the belt around their waist. G hated them and screamed bloody murder when they touched his torso. We took two tactics to get over this aversion: we showed him the belt, played with it, had him snap and unsnap it. Then we worked on getting it around him while he was distracted by trucks or airplanes or television.
For getting around Europe, you don’t necessarily need to bring the carseat but it helped us at times. Not all, of course, but many taxi drivers have child seats and boosters. G hated them. He was perfectly comfortable in his own seat in a taxi, but was unused to the other carseats.
So naturally it is a tradeoff between how much screaming you want to deal with and how much you want to carry around a carseat. We have a nifty backpack case for our carseat which gets the job done. It’s bulky, uncomfortable and heavy though so there were a couple of times where instead of walking to the hotel from the train station, we sent my husband, the carseat and bags ahead in a taxi.
In summary, if your child is a little more flexible with carseats and seat belts, I’d recommend not bringing the carseat. But, if they’re not exactly a paragon of resiliency, then it might be worth it to lug the carseat around.
Extra pro tip: if you do travel with the carseat on the plane…reserve the baby’s seat behind someone in your travel party because the carseat closes the distance between kicking baby feet and the seat in front.
Recommendation number three: When saving for your trip, pad your budget with extra cash for travel change options
Turns out that G does not do well on bus rides. After sitting through a one hour bus ride from Gudvangen to Voss in Norway and listening to him scream and cry inconsolably because he had to ride in the Norwegian mandated baby bus seat, we had to make some changes to our travel plans the next day. We were scheduled to take a five hour bus ride from Bergen to Stavanger. Instead, we looked into renting a car which was too expensive but then found cheap flights that we could take that day. It cost us an extra 200 dollars, but it was money well spent because the bus ride would have been too much for the little guy.
Recommendation number four: Have options
As part of phasing out G’s pacifier use, we only allow him his pacifier for naps and bedtime. It’s actually pretty effective; he’s starting to understand the concept. But for our trip, I loaded up my backpack with seventy-five pacifiers and G had one pretty much nonstop for the entire two week trip. We were the ones who threw off his routine, so we opted to give him something that helps soothe him to get him through that.
While we did stop and do naps in the hotels on many occasions, some days, G ended up napping in his Ergo while we were on the go. Some days that worked and some days it didn’t. One day we had evening plans with G, but it was clear that he wasn’t going to make it through dinner, so we put him down early and my in-laws and husband had dinner in the hotel room.
Don’t forget to have park backup plans. On a couple of days, we just went to the gardens or playgrounds and spent the afternoon running around. When we opted to buy that plane ticket from Bergen? Well we had a couple extra hours, so we went to the top of the inclined plane in Bergen and hung out at an awesome playground for two hours while G ran around with a bunch of other kids. In Berlin, instead of going to a museum, we hung out in the grassy parks in Tiergarten.
Recommendation number five: talk to people
On our plane ride out, we had these guys yelling at us in Dutch because the little guy was screaming and kicking the seat, despite all of our efforts to hold his feet. There wasn’t much that we could say to them to explain that we were doing our best. But everyone else that we talked to on the planes was super understanding. I let these two bros traveling from Brussels to the US know that G tended to scream on the takeoff. They were totally cool and completely understood. I apologized when G threw his pacifier at a young Norwegian businessman but the businessman stopped me and said, “Look, it’s fine. He’s a kid. He doesn’t know any better.”
As long as you make an effort and you chat with folks, the majority of folks on travel venues understand that babies are babies. For those other people who don’t get it…well you’ll never see them again.
For that Dutch couple that was yelling at us? I don’t speak Dutch, so I had no idea what they were saying. I’d say that worked out well for everyone!