8 months ago
Traveling to Europe with a Toddler
This was our fourth and biggest trip with our 13-month-old. We traveled from Chicago to Puglia, Italy. Two flights, two hours of sleep overnight, and ten hours up in the air with a toddler. I’m going to share what I packed, how we got through the flights, adjusting to a new time zone, and what it was like being in Europe with a toddler.
My number one piece of advice is to go into the trip with a loose plan. Fortunately, I’m not much of a planner while traveling and like to keep things flexible. I am generally just happy experiencing someplace new – the sights, culture, people, and food. Expect to miss a few things and plan on relaxing at the hotel or house while the baby naps. Take in what you can and expect a slower pace.
Puglia was amazing. I loved our trip and am so glad we went, but I would recommend visiting a major city where it’s easier to get around (and where everything isn’t an hour car ride away) with a toddler who naps. Planning our day around naps and 45-60+ minute car rides wasn’t ideal, but it was worth it.
What I packed
Yes, I realize how insane the following photo looks but we needed all. these. things. (Can anyone hear Ross Gellar right now or is it just me?). There wasn’t one bag large enough to hold everything on the flight that I thought I’d need for 10+ hours of travel, so I packed a tote and diaper bag, and had a pretty decent system between the two bags, and checked everything else. Keep in mind there’s a stroller, car seat, crib, travel high chair, formula, snacks, and so much more in those bags.
My Packing List
White noise machine
Travel high chair
Pajamas and clothes
Wearable blankets (2)
Slumberkins (3, and we lost one at Heathrow)
Travel changing pad
Bottle drying rack
Diapers (eco-friendly, chemical free)
Clothes and swimsuits (just one packing cube full)
Formula and formula dispenser
Happy Baby pouches and favorite snacks
Forks and disposable placemats
She wouldn’t wear these headphones but I think they’ll be great when she’s older
Water wow books
UPF sun hat
Baby carrier (only used this at the airport so only bring if you know your baby likes it)
Margot’s packing cubes
Why we packed formula: Margot isn’t a big eater, so we kept her on formula through the trip and switched to an almond/pea milk blend when we got back home.
The house we rented had a crib, but from my experience, it’s best to bring your own. Hotel cribs are usually old/dirty, so I always bring one, and I am so glad I did.
Everything I read said to bring your own car seat. I almost bought the cosco one that’s recommended for travel (only 10-ish lbs), but it didn’t look as comfortable and we knew we’d be in the car quite a bit each day, so I packed our Cybex Sirona (we keep it in our nanny’s car). It is big and heavy, but it was great to have for those longer drives.
What we checked
On the plane
1 AWAY carry-on
Truffle bags to organize beauty products and essentials
Packing cube for Margot’s essentials
2 extra pairs of PJs for Margot and an outfit for each of us
Travel blocks (too young to really focus on these)
Fire tablet 8 (with Frozen and Moana, her favorites. best thing we brought!)
Small toys and books from her Lovevery play kits
Favorite books (pout pout fish and how kind)
Flash cards (she loves these!)
I brought a few coloring books but she was a little young for them
I packed Margot’s PJs, a blanket, and some toys in a packing cube
Our NYC flight was by far the worst flight we’ve ever taken with Margot which I attribute to it being very early in the morning before Margot had a chance to play and nap. This trip was obviously the longest (From Chicago to Heathrow to Brindisi, and connecting flights are my least favorite) but it was better than expected. and we made it work.
I usually book a seat for Margot because its the safest and most convenient option, but this time, we used points to upgrade to business class – something neither of us have ever done before, and we’d only ever do it again with points due to the cost. I wanted to share this because we were able to lay down and had a little more space, but Margot only slept 2 hours total all night, so it wasn’t a magic fix. Having space and laying down was amazing but for any future trips, we’ll fly coach and buy this for Margot.
This was nice, but she barely spent any time on the ground.
It was mostly good – better than expected with a few rough moments. The free champagne was necessary. We flew out at 5:30PM and Margot was wide awake at her 7PM bedtime. She was in a great mood but pretty wired and would not wind down for sleep. She went from laughing and jumping to completely losing her mind (screaming) at 9:30PM. I walked her over to the flight attendant’s area to try to calm her down and she screamed until she threw up everywhere, and eventually passed out on me. We landed 2 hours later (which woke her up), ran through Heathrow, boarded our second flight (standard coach seats) and she never went back to sleep until we landed in Italy. All screen time rules were out the window. We were so tired and just trying to get by at this point.
Extra space aside, we were armed with Frozen and Moana on our Amazon tablet, and some toys that she played with for all of 2 minutes each. It’s really hard to keep a 1-year-old busy. I bought the regular Fire tablet instead of the kid’s one because it’s cheaper and then we have the option of using it as well. It’s not something I plan on letting Margot use outside of travel, and I try to keep screen time to a minimum day-to-day (no TV time during the week and a little bit on weekends). You can easily add restrictions, so the kid’s version seems unnecessary and less practical.
Margot passed out in the car after we landed. We couldn’t check in to the house for a few hours, so everyone went to lunch and I sat in the car with her while she slept for about an hour-and-a-half. I imagine most moms would do the same? I was not going to move my baby and just relaxed while she slept.
Then she woke up, we got settled, and took a dip in the pool.
The flight home was much better, although she was fussy and wouldn’t let Conor hold her at all. As she was getting fussy and tired, I stood up, walked/rocked/bounced her and she fell asleep. Magic. We landed close to her bedtime and she was so tired and she just fell asleep and slept through the night. Adjusting to coming home really wasn’t that bad at all (shocking).
Sleep and adjusting to a 7 hour time change
I had no idea what to expect the first night. She ended up going to sleep at around 7 or 8PM (Italy time) but woke up at midnight (in a good mood!) so we let her play for 2 hours, and she went back to sleep and slept in the next morning. Margot woke up an average of once per night but we turned her entire universe upside-down, so we just went with it. She naturally sort of adjusted minus her wake-ups at night, and bedtime was usually closer to 8-9PM, so we were able to keep her out for dinner. She was a great little traveler, and we did our best to keep things as easy on her as possible. Again, I went into it expecting the worst with a less rigid schedule, knowing she’d need to get some sleep, but we were never in a situation where she tried to sleep all day. The latest she slept in was maybe 9:30/10am and on average, she went to bed at 8/9PM.
The nights we had dinner at the house, I was a bit more flexible with naps and the nights we had dinner out, I made sure she got a good crib nap in. We missed a few things but we also got to experience Europe with our baby. If you’re looking for more detail on what I packed and a closer l have a highlight on instagram called PACKING with a look at everything in our suitcases.
I have experienced sharing a hotel room with baby, a hotel with a separate bedroom/living room (much easier) and in NY and Italy, renting a house (the best). Giving baby his/her own room is so, so nice. Having a whole house and kitchen made things a lot easier for us.
Our travel stroller
I’ve traveled with our full-size stroller and tested 2 travel strollers before deciding on the Bugaboo BEE 5 – a compact stroller that’s perfect for travel but not officially a “travel stroller” and it is amazing! I love it for day-to-day. It takes up a lot less space than our full-size stroller, it’s light, the seat reclines almost all the way, the canopy is HUGE (blocks so much sun), and the basket is great, too. Couldn’t be happier with it and can’t recommend it enough for life and for travel, too.
Seriously, though. Just look at this canopy! Margot took some of her best stroller naps on this trip.
Margot had all meals at the house in this travel high chair. It’s great because you can use it on the ground or on most standard dining chairs. Can we talk about those little crossed feet? Man, I love her.
I was surprised to find that a few restaurants we visited didn’t have high chairs, but it was really easy to have Margot sit in her stroller. I didn’t think to bring the travel high chair out, but it was never an issue.
We set up her travel crib and Nanit monitor right away. Luckily, the room had big wooden shades that blocked all light, but I brought travel blackout curtains just in case.
Europe is definitely different with a baby, but life is different with a baby, so there’s that. At the end of the day, the trip had its hard moments, but was so worth it. I got to take the daughter I dreamed of for almost my entire life to Italy. I got to experience new sights with my little family, and it felt like a magical glimpse at what I hope to experience with my little girl. Pure magic.
This was one of my favorite moments on the trip. We walked Margot over to this little park and an adorable Italian boy started chatting away, but sadly, I don’t speak Italian and Conor (who does speak Italian) was a little behind us and missed what he said.