Okay! So now that we've covered what you'll need to bring for your time in Europe [back here in PART I], let's talk about the actual TRAVELING that's about to go down. While traveling with a toddler is crazy fun, it can also be just plain crazy if you don't prepare for your time on planes, trains, and buses. A single traveling adult is able to kick back, read a book, or just look out the window during long periods of travel... but toddlers are a just a little bit more wiggly than that... as you know.
So! I've put together a list of things that can help when you're on the move with a toddler. Enjoy!
1. The plane ride
The plane ride from America to Europe can be intense. 12-15 hours in one seat, with minimal leg room, surrounded by a hundred complete strangers... with a toddler. Deep breaths. It may sound totally crazy, but it is doable! I pinky swear. First of all, you need to be prepared. Here's how!
- Have a designated "toddler bag" (one of your carry-ons) where you keep everything that you may need for your little one during the flight, and KEEP IT CLOSE BY. It's always awkward when your toddler suddenly spills applesauce all over himself/ you... and your bag is above the guy next to you in the overhead compartment. No bueno. Keep it under the seat in front of you for easy access! (**You are going to want to have this bad boy with you at all times. On trains, planes, buses... everywhere. I'll put up more details about what you should include in your toddler bag, below!)
- Keep your baby's birth certificate and passport handy. The airlines will most-likely want to verify your child's age, especially if they are a lap-sitter (they need to be under two for that option). Which, speaking of the lap-sitter option, DO IT. In my opinion, you don't need to spend a thousand dollars on a child's seat, when a) they will most likely be sitting in your lap anyways, and b) you could spend that money on traveling when you land in Europe! Look, it's going to be a tough 12 hours, no matter how you do it. But it's only 12 hours of a much longer vacation! So let your little one camp out on your lap, and you'll be landing before you know it.
- Take your stroller right up to the gate. Keep it with you as long as possible!! Don't check it with your large bags when you initially arrive at the airport. They will check it for free once you get up to the plane to board, and they will pull it out for you and have it waiting when you arrive. So handy! Quick note: Make sure to have all removable parts taken off of your stroller BEFORE you give it to the airlines to check. Ours had a little plastic steering wheel attached, and it popped off in the underbelly of the plane. Sad day!
|^^A happy baby + London in the Fall.^^|
- Be the last ones to board the plane. Let the airline counter know that you are present in order to keep your seat reserved, but don't rush to get on the plane immediately. Your toddler is going to be stuck on that thing for a REALLY long time, so let them get their wiggles out. Also, get to your counter early and ask for the bulkhead seats (the seats in the front of the airplane with more leg room!). If they aren't reserved already, a lot of airlines will happily move you so that your toddler has more room to stretch and play. Most airlines are really accommodating for small children if you communicate with them!
- Get up and walk around. A LOT. You should always stretch on a long airplane ride, but with a toddler, it is even more important. A toddler is not used to sitting still for long periods of time. So, let them explore! It's okay. If the fastened seat belt sign is off, and the turbulence isn't to rough, then go for it! You may get a few dirty looks for getting in the way (hello tiny aisles!), but don't let it bother you. Your baby will be MUCH happier if you let them walk around and explore.
- RELAX. You guys, this is hard to do. I know. Trust me, I really know. I'm a huge control freak, and so putting myself into a situation where I KNOW my toddler is going to at least throw a couple of tantrums and annoy people... well that's a big deal for me. But you know what? It will be okay. When your baby is having a full-fledged meltdown on the airplane, don't let people's rude comments or fiery stares get to you. After all, your little one has been thrown into a completely new space, with a completely confused schedule, and they're probably just as stressed as you are. The best thing you can do for them is to relax, be flexible with their needs, and to not let annoyed passengers freak you out.
|^^A blurry one year old...excited for his first plane ride!^^|
When you arrive in Europe, you're going to be entering a whole world of public transportation that you never ever dreamed of / experienced in America. Yeah, America has public transportation...but let's face it. It goes MAJORLY unused for most of us, because we have the luxury of hopping in our own car 99 percent of the time. So traveling without a car may be a challenge. But you guys, the public transportation system in Europe is THE BOMB. Get ready to fall in love!
- Buy a metro pass! Most major European cities have metros, and they are THE BEST (cheapest!) way to get from one place to another quickly. If you are going to be in one place for longer than a day, it definitely pays to buy a pass for the metro. Buying a single-ride pass every time you want to go somewhere definitely adds up, and trust me, it slows you waaaaay down. You don't want to have to go to the ticket window every time you want to ride the metro. Just knock it out of the way first thing, and you'll be set!
- Ride Buses! Don't shy away from them! I know there is a total taboo against the Greyhound buses system in America (nastiness)...but I promise you, the buses are awesome in Europe. Especially if you want to sight see while you ride around (like London!).You can also buy a bus pass in most cities, varying from a one-day pass, to 20 rides, to a pass that includes buses and metro rides. They are super handy, usually electronic, swipe cards! Again, it is cheaper to buy a pass than just pay for single rides all the time.
- Don't take taxis unless you absolutely MUST. Taxis are one of the most expensive ways to get around. Not to mention, most taxis aren't equipped with car seats for your toddler, and they cannot accommodate strollers. Which brings me to my next point....
- Bring your stroller EVERYWHERE! The great thing about public transportation is it is very accommodating for strollers. We took our stroller on the metro, on buses, on ferries...seriously, we took it everywhere. We never had to worry about a car seat, because our child was strapped down in the stroller at all times. I'm pretty sure we never went ANYWHERE without our stroller. Even if we wanted to just get out of the hotel/ apartment for an hour and wander, we still brought it with us. You never know what adventures might fall into your lap, and a stroller is a total lifesaver for extra bags ...and for extra tired toddlers. :-)
|^^At the Zoo in Antwerp, Belgium!^^|
Friends. You will LOVE the trains in Europe. They are so convenient, reasonably priced, and really quite comfortable. Trains are the cheapest way to travel from country to country (or at least that's what we found), and they are also a fun way to see the more of the countryside!
- Purchase your train tickets ahead of time. Just like buying an airline ticket, you will want to buy your train tickets in advance. Most train tickets can be purchased online, but some tickets need to be picked up directly from the train station, so make sure you look into it. We bought our train tickets anywhere from one month to two days in advance, depending on where we were going.
- Check all train stations in your area for the cheapest/ closest departure. We had three train stations near our apartment in Brussels, so we always tried to check and see which had the best route to our destination for the best price. Sometimes it was worth it to walk a little bit further to another train station, because it had a cheaper option for our trip.
- If you are traveling to another country, make sure to arrive early for your train departure. Some trips from country to country may require custom checks, and you don't want to miss a train because you are stuck in line. For example, when we went from Brussels to London, we had to stand in line for a passport check, interview, and additional custom checks before they allowed us onto the train platform (the UK's visa policy for travelers is different than a lot of Europe). We forgot about this, only arrived a few minutes early for our train, and barely made it on time. Moral of the story: Come early! Plan ahead! You will be glad you did.
- Just like the airplane, get up and walk around. Your toddler is going to want to get wiggles out, so by all means! Let them wiggle up and down the aisles! You will need to have your ticket with you to get it stamped, but other than that, you can roam. The area between train cars was pretty much where we hung out at all times. It is more roomy, it's noisy (so you don't have to worry about 'shushhh-ing' your toddler), and the perfect area for a toddler to explore. Just be aware that the train isn't as smooth as a car or airplane... so brace yourself and your toddler for the bumps!
**And now.... THE TODDLER BAG!
As I mentioned earlier, one of your greatest tools when you travel will be being prepared with a toddler bag. We used a backpack, and basically never went anywhere without it. I'm serious. It is a life saver!! Here is a peek at what you should have in your toddler bag:
- A sippy cup of water, plus a water bottle
- At LEAST three containers/ Ziploc baggies full of toddler snacks (goldfish, pretzels, grapes, bread, graham crackers, fruit snacks, etc!)
- Diapers & Wipes (or a couple of extra undies if they are potty-trained)
- A change of clothes for your toddler
- Books and coloring books (with crayons)
- Stickers (endless entertainment!)
- A few new, small toys. They will get bored of their old toys fast. Invest in a few new ones, and they will be kept entertained for longer. Every minute counts!!
- The iPad and headphones (which could also go in your bag...but you DON'T want to forget it)
- Extra binkies
- A small blanket
- Extra plastic bags and Ziploc baggies for dirty bowls/ clothes/ trash/ other misc. stuff
|^^Note the backpack...aka toddler bag! Never left our side.^^|
And there you have it. Traveling with a toddler! It really isn't scary at all. You can do it!!
Coming up next... how to be a tourist with a toddler!
What to see, where to stay, and how to do it for cheap.