Right after I had my son Theo, I thought that my travel days were surely over. Like every first time mom, I eventually got braver and started venturing out of the house with my infant. Some days were a success while others were filled with tears and blowouts. So when I booked a trip to Italy with, at the time a four-month-old, I spent months worrying and preparing for all possible scenarios.
I asked everyone I knew for tips, read tons of travel blogs, and researched Italy like crazy. Theo turned nine-months-old on our trip and much to my surprise, he did great! I learned so much about traveling with a baby and I think what I learned can REALLY help any mom about to embark on her first international trip with a baby.
Most major airlines still charge 10% of the regular ticket price for a lap child on international flights. Todd and I have been to Europe before and had purchased the cheapest tickets possible on a small plane. With Theo, we flew United Airlines and spent a little extra to be in the front of the Economy Plus section. On the large planes that make the international flights, the front, outside rows have two seats with extra leg space in front of the wall separating the cabin from Business Class. We purposely booked these seats so we could have the extra room, and it was a game changer! We could put Theo down to play and we had tons of extra legroom. If you have a baby small enough for one of United’s bassinets, you can easily have one in this row.
We ALWAYS fly with a Boppy. This makes it so much easier to nurse and for Theo to get some sleep.
For us, RED EYE FLIGHTS are better for Theo when we have a long flight. Our flight to Rome was an overnight flight and since it was during his bedtime, he slept for a solid portion of the flight once the lights went out. On the way back, we left at 10 a.m. and he was all thrown off since they still dimmed the cabin lights.
Books on tape are awesome for flying. Whether you are standing and bouncing a cranky baby or just stuck in the same position while they are sleeping, it’s nice to have the distraction to pass the time.
For entertainment, we brought tons of toys and snacks. Teething biscuits are great for flying since they keep your little one busy. Just plan on baby being a little messy at the end of the flight. Make sure you have a change of clothes for baby AND you since you will probably be covered in whatever mess they make. We also brought our iPad with a few movies and played some of the free kids movies for Theo. He didn’t last long, but small spurts here and there of sitting still goes a long way!
Stay close to attractions! You don’t want to waste time traveling to each museum or landmark when you only have so much precious time before your baby is ready for a nap. It’s also a lot harder jumping on and off public transportation with a baby. On our train ride from Venice to Milan, we realized we were in the wrong car which resulted in Todd jumping off the train and sprinting 10 cars up while carrying our giant jog stroller (don’t worry, he made it just in time before the doors closed!). You may have to pay a little more to stay in a prime location, but it will make your life and vacation so much easier.
We stayed in hotels, Homeaways, and AirBnBs during our stay in Italy. The biggest thing for us was having a crib for Theo. In all of our accommodations, except for our Homeaway in Rome, we were able to have a crib and Theo slept great. The only time we had a problem was in our small hotel room in Siena. We didn’t have a wall or separate room to put him down in, so he cried pretty hard since he could see us and he had spent three nights in Rome sleeping with us. My biggest tip for sleeping on vacation is stick to your regular bedtime routine as much as possible. However, remember that they are completely thrown off in a different time zone and in a new place, so some personal “rule breaking” may need to happen. Theo may have been thrown off from jet lag, but he adjusted quickly since he didn’t have a solid night’s sleep on the plane. I think babies adjust the quickest, everyone else struggled sleeping the first couple of nights, but Theo slept all night! We brought two of Theo’s “lovies” (his little animals that he sleeps with) and his sound machine. Make sure you have extra batteries so your sound machine doesn’t go out on you. We traveled with an entire pack of batteries because I was terrified of it dying and trying to put him to sleep without it.
I started Theo on solid foods right at six months. Obviously when I booked the trip and he was only four-months-old, I had no idea where he would be with eating for our trip. Since I made all of his purees, I seriously considered bringing a magic bullet to Italy! Fortunately, right before the trip, we worked on eating foods like pasta, sauces, and ground up meat. He also loves Yogurt and Italy has amazing Yogurt. Every place we went, there was something on the menu that I could feed him. Even with all of the great food, he definitely wanted to nurse more. This made it really easy to feed him on the go. I don’t use formula, but I know that it is offered in the grocery stores as well as baby food. Just do your research before you go so you aren’t in the store trying to translate Italian food labels!
Wherever we went, I always had a bag of puffs to keep him entertained. I also got really good at discretely nursing in public (I nursed him in the Roman Forum!). Remember, they have grocery stores too, so you have access to tons of fresh fruit and groceries.
I brought my breast pump to Italy, and I honestly only used it one time. I could have traveled without it and been fine, but if you are an avid pumper, or prefer to have a bottle with you, make sure you have batteries and extra batteries so you can use it wherever you go. I tried to pump in our car ride to Siena and the pump was dead from being switched on accidentally in my luggage. Major bummer!
We decided to bring diapers with us for the entire trip (12 days worth)! While researching Italy, I spent tons of time trying to find supermarkets that would have diapers. I know they exist, but it was stressful thinking of having to find a place since most of the small grocery stores and pharmacies we went into never had any. We just packed them in tightly and made do. Plus it was a great way to leave room in our luggage for souvenirs. Our flight home was cancelled, so we spent an extra day in Italy and made it home with only two diapers to spare! So make sure to account for an extra day or two and take a generous supply with you.
Don’t expect to find changing tables in the bathrooms. We changed Theo’s diaper in an alley way in Venice, just carry a blanket or lay them down on your carrier.
Call your health insurance to see if you are covered internationally. Our insurance did not cover us in Italy, so I purchased a short-term plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield which ended up costing under $25 for both Theo and I. It’s a small price to pay compared to what you could be paying if something happened while traveling. You should also make sure you know where your insurance is accepted. It won’t do you any good to show up to a hospital or clinic that isn’t covered by your insurance. Be sure to look this up online before heading abroad.
The biggest tip I got from experienced travelers was to go into the trip knowing that I wouldn’t get to see everything. Of course this is true, the first time Todd and I went to Europe, we were on the go all day everyday wanting to see everything. Even going at a slower pace, we were still able to most of the major things on our list.
I was super discouraged after reading some conversations on TripAdvisor about bringing Theo to the Vatican, and we almost didn’t go! Fortunately, Todd is the voice of reason and said that if Theo was fussy, we could take turns taking him out. I’ve always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it! We got tickets for the first morning time slot to the Vatican Museum, so when we arrived we got right in and went straight for the Sistine Chapel. To our surprise, it was pretty empty and Theo was very quiet for about 20 minutes! Once he got fussy, we left. For St. Peter’s, Theo liked yelling (happy yelling), and they don’t like you to sit on the floor. So, we didn’t get to spend as much time admiring it, but we still got to see it. It was also so loud from all of the tourists, so it was already pretty loud.
We always bought our tickets in advance so we didn’t have to waste time standing in ticket lines. We were in the first group going into the Vatican and when we came out, there was a huge line down the street! Early mornings are great, especially since most tourists are still sleeping from staying out at night. Our favorite time to explore Venice was early in the morning since no one was out yet.
We only booked one tour during our visit, a Colosseum and Roman Forum Tour throughLivItaly and it was amazing! I had really wanted to see the underground of the Colosseum and I love Roman history, so this was perfect. This tour group only takes small groups (six people, which allowed us to go at our own pace and not get lost in a huge group. We booked the tour for the early afternoon so we could get a good morning nap in before the tour.
Stroller or no stroller?
We went back and forth on bringing a stroller to Italy. In the end, we did and we were so glad we did! For major tourist cities like Rome with narrow streets and huge crowds, a stroller is a no go and we used our Ergo 360 Carrier. But we were able to use our Graco jog stroller in Siena, Florence, and Milan and it was a nice break for our backs. Since the roads are cobblestone and very uneven, we brought our jog stroller that has shocks and is made for rougher terrain. When he fell asleep, and the stroller has a huge shade that pulls down to keep him shaded.
For any tours in crowded museums or places like the Colosseum in Rome, we used our carrier. Since Theo spends a lot of time in his carrier, he was very used to it and we could easily switch off and make adjustments for our different sizes and the various carrier positions. If you don’t use your carrier frequently, you may want to start using it more often so baby is familiar with it and you and your partner are able to get it on and off easily before your trip.
Condense your stuff:
It’s hard not to bring a diaper bag stuffed full of things for every possible scenario. But when you are out site seeing, the last thing you want to deal with is a heavy, overstuffed diaper bag. I found the Monopoly Travel Messenger Bag from MochiThings for the trip and it was amazing! I could fit so many things inside, but it was still small with an over the shoulder strap. I brought diapers wipes, a couple of toys, puffs, sunscreen, and waters. The bag has so many pockets to keep you organized and now I use it as my mini diaper bag. It’s awesome!
Always carry sunscreen, a hat, and water for your baby. We went in May and had a lot of sunshine (fortunately!). They sell infant sunscreen at the pharmacies if you want to purchase some while you are there.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you with your future travels! Remember to relax and enjoy your vacation. Things are going to go wrong and there will be cranky days. Plan for more downtime, walking the streets, playing in a park, or just soaking up some less of the touristy sights and more of the beautiful culture.