5 months ago
Tips for 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. I figured out a few tips for traveling to Europe with a toddler. 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. I shared my travel essentials for a long flight here.
This post was originally published in 2019
Tips for Traveling to 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: This is ideal since it is very compact.
Pajamas and clothes
Outfits and swimsuits
Wearable blankets (2)
Slumberkins (Brought 3, lost one at Heathrow)
Travel changing pad
Bottle drying rack
Bottles or sippy cups
Formula and formula dispenser
Favorite snacks (that you can’t purchase in Europe)
Plate, utensils, and disposable placemats
Water wow books
UPF sun hat
Baby carrier (only used this at the airport so only bring if you know your baby likes it)
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 brought one that was far too heavy, and would recommend the Doona until your baby/toddler is too big, and the Pico WayB for ages 2 and up.
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.
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).
This was nice, but she barely spent any time on the ground.
It was mostly ok but kind of terrible, too. 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.
The #1 way to get through a flight
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. Screen time will save you, and there are no rules when you’re up in the air. I bought the regular Fire tablet instead of the kid’s one but hands-down recommend an iPad. You can’t lock the screen on the Fire but can on an iPad, so she was constantly exiting movies and games.
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.
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.
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.
Dining with a toddler
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.
Was it worth it?
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 felt worth it. Would I do it again? Yes, but I’d wait until she turned three. 😂 I got to take the daughter I dreamed of for almost my entire life to Italy and am grateful, but it wasn’t a vacation. 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.