One of our goals in moving to London was to use it as a base to travel to a bunch of other countries. We knew travel was going to look different with two babies than our trips pre-kids, but we wanted to try to preserve some of our sense of adventure. We’ve done several trips now and I feel like I learn something every time. I am not a parenting or travel expert by any stretch, but these are some things that are working for us!
We’ve mostly avoided bringing car seats by just taking public transit. But if you absolutely have to take car seats and plan to travel frequently, I highly recommend the WayB Pico. It is admittedly pricey, and will only work for an older kid (probably 2+) because it can only be forward facing. But it folds up super small and light, and is easy to install on a plane. There are different regulations for using a car seat on a plane that vary by country and airline, but your car seat should have a tag on it that shows the proper install.
I know people also swear by the Doona (car seat that folds out into a stroller) but it’s infant-only so they’ll outgrow it in probably a year. Plus, it has the small plastic wheels that aren’t as great on uneven terrain, aka the cobblestone streets in all of Europe. Definitely pros and cons to both. I’ve also seen where parents will purchase a small dolly and strap the carseat into it, which seems to work well (and is probably cheaper) but would really only help you getting through the airport and not so much at your destination if you need a stroller. We have the Mountain Buggy Duet which is deceivingly small for a double stroller (will fit through a standard doorway) and has the nice big wheels for a smooth ride. Finding it nearly new but significantly discounted on Facebook Marketplace was one of my crowning achievements of 2022.
You can gate-check car seats and strollers, meaning they let you leave these items at the end of the jetway.
On some airlines, your stroller is returned to you as you’re leaving the plane. Other times they are sent all the way through to baggage claim. That means you have to carry your enormous squirming baby all the way through passport control to baggage claim, which is particularly annoying if you didn’t even check a bag. But it happens.
Many airlines offer “cot seats” on international flights, which is basically the front row of the section so you have extra space, and they can install a little bassinet for you on the wall for an infant-in-arms. The airlines manage these seats differently, but typically you have to call and request them. Elsie was really too big for the bassinet on our flight back to London in July but we still got the seats and she somehow slept in it the entire flight back. Angel baby.
We love AirBnb because we’ve had some great experiences feeling a bit more like locals than tourists. That said, one of the quickest things to cross off your packing list when you’re trying to pack light is a travel crib. Ours is really nice and light, but it’s still an extra thing to carry and has to be checked, and we often get away with just using our big backpack and a diaper bag if it’s just a long weekend. We have frequently been able to find AirBnbs that offer cribs, and as of very recently you can filter your search for it as an amenity! So that’s super helpful.
Staying in a hotel where they provide cribs (or infant cots, as they are called over here) is a definite perk. If you have a little baby, a makeshift bed in a closet also works. We’ve had some success at “aparthotels” which have a separate bedroom. This is nice when your kids nap/go to bed early so you don’t have to sit in the dark while they sleep. I’ve seen a lot of recommendations for the SlumberPod to avoid the whole room darkening issue, but it’s one more thing to pack and I wouldn’t be able to put both kids in there.
Which brings me to what is probably my best (but perhaps most controversial?) tip. This was actually the genius of the GS after I nearly murdered him for forgetting the console for our baby monitor on one trip. He quickly pivoted by setting up a Zoom meeting on the iPad and then joining it from his phone. This is genius for many reasons. First- no restrictions on distance from the camera to the console. Second, one less thing to pack. Third, means you can go down to the hotel bar for a drink while your kids sleep and keep an eye/ear on them. If you think this is bad parenting, I don’t want to hear it. The room is locked, the kids are asleep, and we never left the building. Certainly beats sitting and whispering in a dark hotel room. We usually avoid this (and a monitor altogether) by just choosing an AirBnb or a hotel with a separate bedroom.
It’s worth saying that there are diapers everywhere, so you may want to consider packing just enough to get you to your destination and then buying a pack when you get there. If we’re just doing a weekend trip I tend to pack enough diapers for Elsie but if we go longer, I just buy them there. The same goes for snacks! I pack enough to get us through our travel to our destination and then pop into a grocery store upon arrival for applesauce pouches, granola bars, fruit, etc.
For kids who are potty trained, I recommend the Poppy Potty. It can be propped up on the grass, fitted with a bag, or put over a standard toilet. And it folds up small and flat to travel with.
Other things that make life easier? Screens. If you are like me and feel immense guilt every time you let a screen occupy your child’s attention, let me share with you some advice from economist and personal idol of mine, Emily Oster. TL;DR: Think about what the alternative to the screen is in that moment. When you’re home, maybe it’s playing outside, reading a book, or otherwise interacting with you. But when you’re on an airplane, it’s probably kicking the seat in front of them or being incredibly annoying to you and the fellow passengers. So just pass them the iPad. Greta is at a great age for it now where she gets really excited to watch Bluey (I’m not embarrassed to say I also enjoy Bluey) or use a coloring app and it will occupy her for an hour.
An iPad to entertain your kids- worth packing. Toys? Negative. I’ve never been big on buying toys, but this is confirmed for me over and over when my children are enamored by things like tiny hotel bottles of shampoo, used train tickets, and (negative) COVID tests. We have let Greta bring her backpack with those few snacks, the iPad, and maybe one or two other small things in it. The Water Wow coloring books are great because they’re small and don’t make a mess, and once it dries you can reuse it several times.
I try to pack in layers for us and for them, and packing cubes are an absolute must. I gave up caring how my kids are dressed a long time ago, but I recently saw a tip about packing a monochromatic wardrobe for your kids so all their clothes go together. I thought that was a nice idea if you do care how your kids are dressed/want the vacation photos to be nice. I also throw in a bib for each of them, and one baby fork and spoon.
We travel everywhere with our sound machines which keeps some consistency for them as far as naps and bedtime in an unfamiliar place. Keeping the bedtime routine the same (teeth brushing, books, song, white noise, etc.) has been enough to make them feel comfortable and we haven’t had any issues with them refusing to sleep somewhere.
I was initially worried about time changes, but it has not been an issue at all. I worship at the altar of Taking Cara Babies which gets 1000% of the credit for my kids being great sleepers. Her focus is on age appropriate wake windows, and this becomes really helpful when you’re thinking about trying to keep them on track with a time difference. I try to work backwards from when I want them to go to bed and figure out when they need to nap to make that happen. Sometimes it involves stretching them an extra half hour or waking them up early from a nap, but when we moved here (5 hour time difference) and when we’ve traveled into Europe (just an hour difference) it has helped immensely. Usually it just takes me a day to get them on track. Emily Oster also has a post on using melatonin with kids. Basically, it’s totally safe and effective for jet lag, but don’t use it every night.
It can be a drag to break up your adventuring with a nap. Those sound machines are a must if you’re hoping for stroller naps. Reclined seat, white noise, and a moving stroller gets them every time, but it’s a gamble how long they’ll stay asleep.
Things to Do
Also a 50/50 split is planning activities for us and for them. Go to the zoo in the morning, go to a brewery in the afternoon. You can find playgrounds anywhere, just look on Google Maps. Sometimes it helps to search in the local language (so many “spielplatz” in Germany!)
We brought our picnic blanket with us to Belgium and had a lot of meals on there in different parks, which was more fun for them and lower stress for us than doing every meal in a restaurant. Food halls with multiple vendors and a seat-yourself vibe have been good for us, as have food trucks at breweries. Basically any situation where we’re not relying on the (often incredibly slow) service when we are trying to have a quick meal before a meltdown.
I also find it helps to plan things in advance rather than floundering on the day of. This is my personality in a nutshell, but floundering with impatient toddlers is the worst. Pick a museum, a park, SOMETHING and plan around that. Also remember that there are real people with children who live wherever you are going, so mundane things like a local library or baby music class probably exist there, you just have to do some different Google searching than what you would do as a tourist.
I want to close this already long post with a quote (Instagram caption) from Jo Piazza that really resonated with me:
“Traveling with kids is magical, horrible, enlightening, soulcrushing, happy-making and a shitstorm of doom that changes every fifteen minutes. We do it because staying at home with them can be the same, same tantrums, same hair pulling and name calling and complaints and frankly I’d rather be on the move and seeing new and interesting things which are even more interesting through their eyes… Don’t let Instagram fool you into thinking all family travel is a delightful, beautiful, easy breezy jaunt. It’s hard as fuck, but so is parenting at home so you might as well get the hell out there.”