Travel is full of adventure and the unexpected. It's pushing outside your comfort zone and learning how to problem solve in creative ways. It's eye-opening and mind-opening. It can be stressful. It can be exhausting. It can also be unforgettable.
Traveling is not for the faint-of-heart.
Traveling with a one-year-old is definitely not for the faint of heart.
The internet is full of tips and tricks to make traveling with a toddler easier. Go ahead and do a Google search. You'll find scores of information on the subject.
But there are some things you don't figure out until you experience them for yourself.
Here is what I learned from traveling for 10 days in London and Paris with our own spirited and spunky 14-month-old.
1. You will change diapers in strange and sometimes unsanitary places.
Bring a light-weight changing pad to lay down on unclean surfaces. Bring a metric ton of hand sanitizer.
2. Moms who live in big cities with little ones are rock stars.
Carrying the stroller up and down the stairs of the Metro was a 2 man job. It was stressful enough with 9 other adults to help us out. I can't imagine trying to do that by myself on a daily basis!
3. Strollers make great purse/sweater/water bottle carriers.
Consider bringing a stroller even if you don't have a toddler. Just to carry your stuff. You do a lot of walking on a Europe trip - why lug your own stuff around?
4. Adjusting to time change as quickly as possible is the best idea.
Our flight was overnight, so when we arrived in London it was just after noon. After buying our Oyster card for the underground, heaving our suitcases through said underground and up and down countless flights of stairs, and walking a mile to our rented house, all any of us wanted to do was chug a gallon of water and collapse into bed. Instead, we planned a low-key outing for that evening (the London Eye!) to keep us awake until at least 8:00 p.m. London time. We all went to bed early that night, but adjusted very quickly to the time change - Pippa included! Besides one half hour crying fit that first night, she slept soundly through the night the rest of the trip!
5. Stay close to the action or rely on naps in strollers.
So something you should know about how my family vacations is that there is no relaxing on vacation. We started our days at 9 a.m., and usually stayed out until around 5 p.m. That's a full day of touring, walking, sight seeing, riding the underground or metro, posing for pictures, shopping, and fighting crowds. With the expensive (so expensive!) transportation in London, we tried to avoid taking the underground whenever possible. That meant there was no chance Pippa was getting back to our rented house for a nap. That turned out fine for us, since Pippa will actually nap in the stroller. If we had a toddler that wouldn't, we would have been better off staying in a more central part of the city, or suffer the wrath of an overtired toddler.
6. Plan ahead for snacks (and maybe bring a cooler)
. Pippa still needs whole milk, so we brought our mini cooler along with with a sippy cup full of milk each day. Since we had no idea if we would be near a grocery story when lunch time would roll around, it seemed the safest way to avoid a meltdown. Also, those little fruit puree pouches are amazing as an on-the-go snacks.
7. Museum tours and 14-month-olds don't mix
. We tried. No one can say we didn't try. I'll always have vivid if not nightmarish memories of Pippa squirming out of my arms in Westminster Abbey and running to touch as many strangers as she could in the back of the knee, while shouting, "Hi! Hi! Hi! HI!" Which leads me to lesson #8:
sprinting through the British Museum
8. A lot of people are really nice.
Ah, the kindness of strangers. Their benevolent smiles at our high-energy girl, the kindly folks on the underground and metro who played along when Pippa wouldn't stop saying hi, the looks of solidarity from other parents of small children, and all those who help open doors or helped with the stroller on the stairs were so, so sweet. Most of all, the thoughtful workers at the Ampersand Hotel blew me away. We chose this elegant destination for high tea, and while the boys went off the tour the cricket grounds (and probably grab a pint), we brought the toddler along to sip tea. She definitely generated more crumbs, noise, and activity than their average customer, but not once did I feel unwelcome or judged. One woman even gave Pippa an Ampersand Hotel rubber ducky to keep her occupied! Pippa loved her new toy, and I was one thankful mama.
9. Let the kid stretch her legs.
Pippa did so well in the stroller, but she could only take so much before wiggling and squirming to walk. It helped to take short breaks when we found parks or places she could safely run around.
Kensington Palace gardens
10. Don't analyze, over prepare, or schedule too tightly. Be flexible... and just do it!
There are lots of aspects of travel that are super uncomfortable and exhausting with a small child. If I thought too much about the logistics of diaper changes, milk, naps, etc, I don't know if I would have the energy to face it all. But just taking each day, each moment as it came, and following Pippa's signals, we were able to have a (mostly) meltdown-free trip!
Ok...now to plan where her next passport stamp is coming from...