Our Five “Must Haves” When Traveling to Europe with Kids
You’ve finally decided to take that European trip you’ve always wanted and the kids are coming too!! After traveling to 53 countries around the world, and most recently to Italy, here are our five must haves for traveling to Europe with kids (with a bonus packing tip at the end)!
1. Invest in a sturdy stroller: You guys, I love traveling with a stroller! I’m going to be so sad when the day comes that we can’t bring one with us. Our stroller has so many more uses beyond carrying our kids. It’s the water bottle holder, the snack carrier, the place to hold our change of clothes, jackets & umbrella instead of lugging around some heavy backpack all over a city. It’s also great for the kids because we do a TON of walking and it’s nice for them to have a little break. They all take turns sitting in it, we let them play on their tablets and they can just check out for a bit until they are ready to adventure again.
Our three year old still naps, so it’s perfect for afternoon sleeps. We never go back to our hotel for nap time. To me, although I literally base all my plans around our daughter’s nap-time back at home, it would be a huge waste of time to sit around our hotel for a few hours while she sleeps. Our kids have learned to sleep anywhere because we start them traveling so young and it has been such a gift to have easy-going, flexible kids who are conditioned to sleep wherever.
Cons of bringing a stroller: The only con I can think of is stairs. It is so annoying to have to get all the kids out of the stroller or worse, carry them in it up a bunch of stairs. We do run into these scenarios on every trip, but for a whole day of walking freely and not having to carry anything, it’s worth the hassle of carrying it up some stairs every once in a while.
Our stroller recommendations:
When we were still novice parents (and travelers, for that matter) we tried a bunch of umbrella strollers that were light-weight and easy to fold. My favorite was the Summer Infant 3d Lite Stroller that was completely adequate with just one child.
As we had more kids, we tried using a double umbrella stroller and failed miserably as it would break down during our trip and we would be stuck with a toddler and baby and all our stuff with a stroller whose wheel kept coming off. Then we tried two strollers; each of us pushing a kid… which was also annoying if you needed to open a door or climb up stairs. We would have to leave one child at the bottom of the stairs, carry up the first child, leave the first child at the top by themselves to go bring up the second child. It just got very inconvenient in so many ways.
Next, we tried bringing our foldable wagon, which the kids loved, but it got annoying pulling a wagon all day, and I honestly don’t like having the kids behind me when I walk. I always think of the worst case scenarios… like what if someone grabbed my kid out of it and I didn’t even know because they were behind me?
Finally, we discovered the best stroller for travel is our every day running Bob Stroller. We’ve had this thing for over 8 years now and it is sturdy, reliable, easy to navigate and our single Bob can actually fit all three kids if we absolutely needed it to. (See the picture below). I could not say enough good things about this stroller, it was the first thing I googled when I found out I was pregnant with our first, and it remains to be my number one favorite baby item.
When flying with a stroller, our suggestion is asking the check-in agent at the airport if you can take your stroller to the gate. It’s really nice to have your toddler contained while walking through a busy airport and I always throw my bag on top of it so my shoulder doesn’t hurt lugging my bag to the gate. Your check-in agent should put a luggage tag on your stroller when you check in. Then when you board the plane right at the bottom of the jetway, you will leave the stroller. A baggage agent will put it right under the plane, and if you are lucky, the arriving airport will also bring it up to you as you exit the plane. However, unfortunately sometimes they do take it to oversized baggage, which is so annoying because then you have to walk through the airport and go through customs without it until you get to baggage claim. I would say about 50% of the time this happens, it’s such a gift when the stroller is waiting for us right as we walk off the plane.
2. You will need a universal adapter for European outlets. I always forget that European outlets are different from ours so I’m adding this to my list because I’m assuming someone else may forget too. Think of all the things you plug in on a daily basis that you might bring with you: your phone, laptop, straightener, camera battery charger, etc. You must have an adapter to plug in all of these things in European outlets, so make sure not to forget one when you travel. They don’t take up any space and you can order a bunch here.
When we are traveling and need to charge everything at our hotel at night this is what we do: Matt plugs in his laptop keeping it on all night and we all plug our devices into the multiple USB ports in his laptop. That way we don’t need to bring so many adapters. A lot of hotels have USB adapters in their outlets, which is so great but you shouldn’t rely on that. Newer rental cars have USB adapters as well now. But we bring our cigarette lighter adapter also for our rental car to charge phones while we are driving, which I’d recommend too.
3. Bring a DSLR camera and use it instead of your phone: Here’s the section where I am going to try to influence you to buy a nice camera. I have absolutely no affiliate links in this post, but I just truly looooove having a nice camera and when I see my friends vacation picture on Facebook so often I think to myself, their kids are adorable, the place is gorgeous, why did they only use their cell phone to capture these moments? I also get asked A LOT by people what camera we have, so let me share that here, but also, I’d love to give just some beginner tips for taking photos while traveling. And even if I don’t convince you to buy a nice camera, these tips will still work when taking photos with your cell phone too, so keep reading. :)
First, about buying a nice camera: look, I get it, your phone is smaller and always with you… a camera is bigger and bulky, but the pictures with a nice camera just come out so beautifully; crisp, with vivid colors, and if you ever wanted to enlarge a photo you would need something with high resolution. See some of my favorite travel pictures below:
We love using our Canon, it’s the brand we first started using and we’ve just continued to buy, but I’ve heard really great things about Sony and Nikon too. For our Canon, we added on a Sigma art 1.4 lens, which I highly recommend. The lens was a little pricey, but it literally does almost all the work for us and it photographs children so well. You can buy a mirrorless camera which is much more lightweight and we will most likely buy this one next.
Tips for taking pictures: A friend of mine once gave me this advice and it’s ALWAYS stuck with me. Direct sunlight is not your friend. Yes, we love it for tanning and warming up on a crisp fall day, but when taking pictures you want clouds or shade. I think about the sun all the time when we are traveling. I wait to take pictures until a cloud rolls in, I bring the kids under a tree, or by the shadow of a large building before photographing them. The absolute best time for photos is at the “golden hour” right as the sun sets. We actually plan out our itinerary based on when the sun will set and which landmark is important to get the best photos. Very little editing is needed when you take pictures at the golden hour. The camera just perfectly photographs everything as all the colors around look vibrant and natural.
This is why our trip to Egypt was so frustrating. The pyramid sites closed long before sunset and there were no clouds in the sky so our pictures look over exposed because the lighting was so harsh.
4. Bring a good size tote as a “catch all” for miscellaneous items during travel days.
I love a good bag… and I hate having a bunch of random things to carry, it makes me feel so unorganized. Right now, while my kids are young, I carry most things for them, so I really need a large tote when we travel.
For flights I pack a change of clothes for everyone, even if it’s just rolled up gym shorts, in case someone spills (or has an accident) and one big tshirt that anyone could fit into. I pack food, a book, a jacket or sweater for me because I’m always cold, ear phones, eye mask, and socks.
Similarly for city travel days, I pack snacks, rain jackets and an umbrella stuffed in my tote.
I personally like to place the bag on the hood of the stroller and keep the bottom storage area empty, especially if I know that we are going to have to fold up the stroller a bunch of times through out the day. It’s time consuming to take out a bunch of random things from the bottom of your stroller, especially in the airport when you know it’ll be going under the plane anyway.
Will Leather Goods gave me a bag similar to this to photograph when it first came out and I still remember getting their email saying, “I’m not sure what you could use it for, but hopefully you’ll find a use”. I literally use this bag at least 3xs a week when we are home and every day while we are traveling. It is my absolute favorite. I use it for towels and a change of clothes at swim lessons, as my gym bag when I shower & change at our local YMCA, a day trip to the beach, to pack the kids’ clothes for an overnight at Grandma’s, etc. I love this bag because it holds a LOT and it is still in perfect condition since the day I got it. I get compliments on this bag all the time and I truly love it!!
5. Bring technology and utilize it to pass travel and wait time.
I remember when I was on a road trip as a little girl and my mom would hand me a paper with a bunch of pictures that she drew and I would have to find them as I looked out the window while we drove. There’d be a barn, cattle, a flag, etc. Boy have things changed since then.
Allow me let to you in on a little secret: we only let our kids play video games on vacation. We buy them tablets for their birthdays and download a bunch of games on it, but they are stored on a high shelf until we go on a trip. Our kids know tablets and video games are off limits at home (with the only exception being hair cut day, because, well, it’s survival to get them to sit still for a hair cut, lol.) Beyond that, we don’t play video games at home.
The thing is, our kids LOVE playing video games, so they cannot wait to go on our next trip so they can play on all of their favorite apps. It makes a long travel day something to look forward to because using their tablets is new and exciting again for them. Our kids never complain that a road trip is taking too long, because they are always immersed on their tablets. It really is sooo nice!
I understand that some kids need tablets for school work and there are educational games, so it may not be practical for everyone to only allow tablets for travel. However, I would suggest maybe making a rule that your child can’t download a new game until your next trip so that they have something to look forward to!
One last tip:
Bring the essentials, but don’t overpack.
I’m sure there are a thousand things you think you need when you are traveling with your kids, especially if you have a baby with you. But let me remind you that there are children all around the world. If you absolutely need something while you are abroad, you will find it. We almost always have to buy an extra pack of wipes or diapers; we’ve bought pacifiers abroad, and even a hat and gloves because it was colder than we expected. There’s no need to overpack for all the “what ifs”. Your child, who wears the same sneakers every day of his life, does not need an extra pair of shoes just in case the current ones could suddenly fall apart. So please don’t overthink your packing list.
As far as packing clothes, I always add a little bottle of laundry detergent in my toiletry bag so if I need to wash a pair of shorts in the shower to be reworn later in the trip I can, but I try not to bring any extra clothes “just because”. My rule of thumb for packing clothes for my kids is to pack as many shirts for as many days we are away, maybe the same or a few less shorts/pants, but always extra pairs of underwear. ;)
Most importantly, remember the things we bring are only THINGS, but the memories you make will last forever.