We recently took our 4 month old on a vacation to Italy for two weeks. The trip included planes, trains, boats, a rental car, and plenty of walking and hiking. We visited the Alps in northern Italy where my mom's family is from, and we ended our trip in the stunning Cinque Terre region on the sea. Some said we were brave (crazy) for taking a baby on a big international trip. But, it was actually a great age to travel with Henry. He was still exclusively breastfeeding and not yet crawling. That made him very portable. And babies fly for free. We had a wonderful trip, and we would do it again if given the chance. Here are 8 things we learned along the way.
Apply for baby's passport as soon as possible
Even infants need a passport with a photo, and the passport will expire in 5 years. We took Henry's passport photo ourselves at home and then had it printed at a local pharmacy.
Travel with trusted helpers
Of course this isn't a requirement, but we traveled with my sister and brother-in-law and they helped immensely. It's hard to put into words what an amazing aunt and uncle these two are. They helped carry the stroller up and down the stairs, held Henry during meals at restaurants, changed diapers, made him laugh when he got frustrated, and rocked him to sleep some nights. They also researched and made several travel decisions for us along the way, like where we should eat for dinner and which train to take.
Wear your baby
I couldn't recommend it more. Henry napped, nursed, and hiked many happy miles in the baby carrier. We used it every single day: in the airport, on hiking trails, at the farmers market, and during meals. The lucky lad had quite a few croissant crumbs dropped on his head during this vacation. The carrier saved our arms and it kept him quite content. We have a carrier that allows him to face both in and out, and it was nice to have both options.
Use a backpack as diaper bag
Whether you buy a new trendy "diaper backpack" or just use any old backpack, it's a great way to carry your baby items on the go. I could wear Henry in the baby carrier on my front and the diaper bag on my back quite comfortably.
Pack lightly and do laundry in the sink
It's very hard to pack lightly with a baby, but it does make traveling easier when you don't have too much stuff to lug around. To avoid packing 2 full weeks of baby gear, we washed things like burp cloths, pajamas, and onesies in the sink and hung them to dry. Packing an all-purpose soap made this option easy. We used the same soap for body wash, face wash, baby wash, laundry, and more.
Packing for sun
Since sunscreen isn't best for little babes, it can be hard to plan for extended time in the sun. We used a sunhat for Henry and then covered him with a thin swaddle blanket, which kept him pretty cool. I also wore a wide-brimmed sunhat and it kept him in the shade when he was in the carrier or in my arms.
Flying with an infant
In my opinion, it's so much easier than driving with an infant. You don't have to worry about the car seat, and kind people keep bringing you snacks and drinks. Because of the baby, you are also invited to go to the front of most lines in the airport. I was pleasantly surprised to find that fellow passengers were very warm and welcoming, not annoyed to be sitting next to a baby. Here's what we'd recommend.
• Check the car seat Most airlines will let you check the car seat for free, and it was nice not to have to pay to rent a car seat with our rental car. Also, it was reassuring to have a car seat that we knew fit and worked well for our baby. Most international cars use the LATCH system, just like in the States. You can purchase a large bag specifically made to pack a car seat on the plane. For us, the car seat bag was worth it. We also padded it with diapers and wipes and a foldable bassinet.
• Check the stroller at the gate A friend let us borrow a lightweight and compact travel stroller, and it was nice to have the stroller in the airport. We also used the stroller at the beach to keep him out of the sun and sand.
• Request a bassinet for the flight Most airlines offer a cute little bassinet for babies up to 20 pounds or so. Henry slept and also played in the bassinet. We were grateful to have somewhere to put him besides our laps.
• Feed the baby during takeoff and landing Henry didn't seem to have any trouble with his ears popping, maybe because we nursed on the way up and down. Many folks recommend it.
• Fly through Amsterdam airport We LOVE the Amsterdam airport. They have a gorgeous baby care lounge, a children's library, a children's science museum, and plenty of great places for kids to play. It's all free of charge.
A baby can break through language and cultural barriers
As we walked through the airport or down busy streets, people often approached us with huge smiles and charming greetings for the baby. They asked how old he was and tried to make him laugh. In a hot sunny town square, several people gave up their seat in the shade so we could get Henry out of the sun and change his diaper. These kind people were both locals and international tourists, and we didn't even have to ask.