I’m happy to say that we survived our first family vacation to Europe! I spent a significant amount of time planning this family vacation for the sake of minimizing travel mishaps and it all worked out for the best. I relied on the information provided on other blogs and spoke to other moms who traveled abroad with small children to collect as much information as I could. It’s now my turn to provide some tips if you’re planning a family vacation.
The tips below are based on a 3-week family vacation in Europe. We flew overseas to Berlin where we spent one week, then took an domestic flight to Rome and drove to Tuscany where we spent 5 days. And then drove to my family’s village near Rome where we also spent one week. Our overseas flight back home was from Rome.
7 Ways To Be Stress-Free On Your Next Family Vacation
1- Stay with family or friend
I’m not going to lie, our budget was relatively tight since I’m currently on maternity leave and well, having a baby can be expensive! When we first started talking about going to Europe to take advantage of my one-year long maternity leave, we knew we’d be on a budget. Thankfully, both my husband and I traveled a lot in our 20’s and we have friends all over the world as a result. We decided to reach out to our friends in Berlin (Germany) whom we met during our honeymoon in Costa Rica. For one, we became really close during a two-week vacation 2.5 years ago and they actually came to visit us last year before starting a 6-month backpacking trip in America. Secondly, we had never been to Berlin so we thought it was a great opportunity to visit the city.
Staying with our friends turned out to be a great decision because it gave us the convenience of being at home while traveling. We had a bed, a kitchen and could just relax comfortably at night when our baby was sleeping.
One important note here is to make sure that you have a good relationship with whoever you chose to stay with. We all know that traveling with friends can be a disaster. When selecting a family member or friend to stay with, make sure they have enough room to host you and that you’ve already stayed or traveled with them in the past. Otherwise, it can be an extra source of stress during your family vacation and for no reason!
2- Rent an apartment
Since our daughter is a baby and we needed the convenience of a kitchen so that I could prep her meals, we chose to rent an apartment in Siena (instead of a hotel or B&B) on VRBO. It turned out to be a great decision for a few reasons:
- The family who rented it to us was wonderful. They were so helpful and understanding.
- We were able to rent an apartment based on the commodities we needed such as a kitchen and crib for example.
- The apartment was affordable and right in the city center. We would have paid more if it were a hotel.
I guess I’m a little biased because I’m not a fan of hotels. They really make you feel like a tourist and I find them very impersonal. If renting an apartment is still out of your budget, you can always look for a room in a hotel or B&B as long as it has a communal kitchen. When traveling with kids, having access to a kitchen is really important because you can prepare your meals for your baby or kids and choose to cook your dinner when they go to bed.
Always make sure to read the reviews prior to booking an accommodation online. VRBO also suggests that you call the owners to certify that it’s a real place.
3- Travel by car
We chose to rent a car because of the flexibility it provides. As I mentioned in my pre-vacation post, you can save a significant amount of money if you drive standard because it’s much cheaper than renting an automatic car (in Europe). However, there are two things we hadn’t considered when booking a car rental:
- Installing a car seat: Although we rented a car seat with the rental company, they don’t come installed (to our surprise). Since my husband and I had never installed a car seat using the seat belt, we spent quite a bit of time figuring it out in the parking lot. The employees from the car rental company were extremely unhelpful even though I understand the legal implications behind it, they could have still helped us install it. Tip: YouTube how to install various car seat models using a seat belt before leaving on vacation.
- Tolls: We already knew that renting a car was going to be more expensive than taking the train but flexibility was more important to us so we were comfortable with it. However, one thing we hadn’t considered were the tolls. In Italy, most highways (or autostrada) have tolls that can add up pretty quickly. It’s important for you to consider this cost if you’re planning to drive in Europe. You can use this site to calculate the tolls beforehand.
- Get informed: Don’t assume that the rules are the same as back home. Read about the rules in the country you’re planning to visit to avoid unpleasant tickets or stress.
- GPS: You can rent a GPS with your car or you can buy a card with European maps (for example) and bring your own GPS. I would suggest the latter since it’s significantly cheaper than renting a GPS per day. Note that it takes time to load the maps when you first open it in Europe. If you need to leave the pick-up location right away, it’s always good to have a printed copy of directions. I definitely propose printing them because you never know what can happen to your GPS.
4- Don’t cram a bunch of places to visit or people to see
Back in my backpacking days, I would try to cram as many places I could during my trip. It was fun back then but let’s just say that I now value quality over quantity. It’s also not just about me anymore. Traveling with a baby can be tiring by itself so that last thing you want to do is constantly move from one place to another.
My suggestion here is plan a minimum of 4 nights wherever you’re staying. For example, we spent 5 nights in Siena (Italy). From there, we took day trips to other places nearby. At night, we would always go back to Siena and that’s where my daughter would sleep. It creates some stability for your baby which is really important at night.
We weren’t sleep much on this trip (I’ll explain in more detail below) so there were some days where we really didn’t feel like going to visit a different town. It just so happened that we were planning to visit a vineyard in Chianti when we woke up exhausted from another sleepless night. We decided to nap when our daughter took her morning nap and then enjoy Siena by having lunch in a cute restaurant and enjoying an aperitivo on the main square (Il Campo).
There will be days where you’ll be tired and that’s OK. Give yourself a break by including some flexibility in your schedule. This is the reason why we chose to stay in Siena instead of a remote place near the vineyards. By sleeping in Siena, we could just walk around the town if we weren’t up for visiting a new place. Something to consider if you’re traveling with small kids.
5- Carry your baby
Our personal experience with our daughter is that she prefers being in a carrier just about a million times more than being in a stroller. It allows her to be part of the action and she LOVES it. For us parents, it’s one less thing to carry around and it provides more flexibility. For example, when we decided to climb up the tower in Siena, we just had to pay and climb up because she was already in the carrier. We didn’t have to worry about where to leave the stroller and whether or not it would get stolen.
Another thing is that most airlines will allow you to bring your stroller up until the gate before boarding the plane. Although it’s convenient, it’s still an extra “thing” you need to carry along with your carry-on. When we left Montreal, I saw another young couple who just had a baby carrier and backpack – that’s it! Us, on the other hand, had 3 carry-on luggage, the baby carrier and a stroller. Let’s just say that by the time we took our flight from Berlin to Rome, we minimized our carry-on luggage and checked-in our stroller. We were in heaven!
Moral of the story: I’m not bringing a stroller next time I travel! Once my daughter outgrows the baby carrier, I’ll just purchase a baby backpack.
6- Maintain the same sleeping environment during your vacation
For the most part, our little one slept in a travel tent during this family vacation. However, we actually had a crib when we arrived in Siena so we made her sleep in the crib. Now, I don’t know if it was the crib, her mood or her teeth or whatnot, but she became extremely fussy at night and that’s about the same time she began waking up multiple times per night until we got back home to Canada.
I don’t know if it would have made a difference if I would have kept her in the travel tent but I have a feeling it would have because she would have recognized her environment.
I’d love to hear your opinion on this! Please comment.
7- Plan the trip around your baby’s milestones
One thing is certain: she was teething during this trip. She arrived in Europe with no teeth and left Europe with 3 teeth. This was definitely a culprit for the multiple awakenings at night.
There’s obviously always some milestone but I would highly recommend not traveling during and important milestone such as teething. I think the perfect month to travel to Europe with a baby are between 5-8 months because we’re still not crawling or walking and most babies didn’t start teething yet.
How do you attempt to make your vacations stress-free?Follow us on social media: