From Oct.1-18, my family of three flew on five different flights, two long-distance high-speed trains and countless light-tail trains. We went from German villages so small that you’ll never find them in a travel guidebook to … well, London. Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Schwäbisch Hall, Gaildorf, Brussels, Bruges, Ghent and Greenwich were all on our itinerary.
Considering that the youngest member of the family is all of 9 months old, that’s a serious roll of the dice for our sanity. Even though Anneka had flown on 12 different aircraft previously, you can’t take anything for granted in this situation. How would she cope away from her routine, without her daycare friends, without the familiarity of home.
Well, in pretty damn stellar and impressive fashion, actually – thank you very much.
I’m one happy dad with the resilience, curiosity and adaptability Anneka displayed every day. So, how did we do it?
Travel Shorter Distances First
From day one, Anneka was a baby on the go. We came home from the hospital, changed clothes and went out for Japanese food. The next day, she was at Echo, our local coffeehouse. She was three months old the first time she boarded an airplane, which was a transcontinental flight to the East Coast.
Admittedly, she’s a bit more of a handful on the plane now. She’s bigger, stronger, mobile and vocal. Still, Anneka has no problems with the changing air pressure. And she’s great at making friends with adults and kids alike (her trick with adults is to stare at them until they smile).
And really, we take Anneka a lot of places. We’ve driven to nearby cities for overnight trips. We’ve taken her camping. She goes out on public with us all the time. She’s happiest when we’re on the move. I think all this activity prepared her well for travel.
Switch Things Up a Bit
Our trip had a bit of variety to it. Some of our activities included friends and family, all of whom had children. So Anneka had the adults to fuss over her, and the kids to entertain her. My relatives in Germany and buddy in London were also wonderful tour guides, taking us to museums and historic sites.
But we also had plenty of time to wander independently. During those times, we sought places where Anneka could get out of the BOB Ironman stroller and crawl to her heart’s content. The Regent’s Park in London was a huge hit: She chased the pigeons and enjoyed cruising around the squishy, kid-friendly surface. We looked for any chance for her to get out of the stroller to exercise her new crawling skills – which, I think, is just as emotional as it is physically. It’s a new skill, and offers a degree of independence that’s absolutely unprecedented in her life. So we thought it was important to let her crawl whenever possible. She even crawled around the Bruges Beer Museum.
Slow Things Down
Before Anneka, we traveled at a fast pace. Sarah and I rarely ever spent more than two nights in the same place. This time, we spent four nights at three different hotels, along with a few shorter stays in transition to different places.
We didn’t cover as much ground, but it reduced the amount of packing, unpacking and re-packing. It also let Anneka get more comfortable with her surroundings. We also got to know places a bit better that way. We walked as much as possible and just settled into the places and moments.
Bring the Right Gear
We had one major decision to make: Bring the big BOB Ironman stroller, or the regular Graco stroller with the detachable car seat? Bringing that car seat stroller would mean extra effort to tote the base around. But it would allow us to use taxis. We decided on the BOB; we rented a car through EuropeCar in Germany, and they offered a car seat; it was an odd baseless model that flummoxed us for awhile, but we got the hang of it. And the BOB rolled over cobbled European far better than the Graco possibly could’ve.
That’s just one example. Our water bottles also proved valuable, as did some duct tape (perfect for improvising a wind-and-rain tarp in Belgium). Sarah also relied on the ridiculously useful, super-compact Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil daypack for just about anything that came up; the Ultra-Sil is one of my top picks for gear every new traveler should use, by the way.
Research the Hotels
Sarah’s homework on hotels also helped. We had really good experiences at each of them (which I’ll discuss in a future post), though none of them was completely perfect in every way. She looked for hotels that offered cribs and included breakfast, and she tried hard to find realistic photos of the rooms that told the truth about their dimensions – hotels are really good at using all the photo tricks to make their rooms look huge!
If you are new parents and have your sights set on traveling, these tips should help. But I think you’re really the most important part of the equation. If you love travel and show it, I think your little person will respond as you do. That seems to be what happened with Anneka. Good luck to you, and let me know if you have any thoughts or questions!
Choosing the right airlines also helped. Check out this post to see what makes Lufthansa so good for traveling with kids.