A bed and breakfast in Provence. Traveling the Chunnel to England on a Europass. Backpacking the Alpine trails of Switzerland. You and your partner have had all these romantic ideas for your excursion across Europe, when suddenly, you have a cuddly baby between the two of you! Is it time to give up the dream? Not at all. Take baby with you!
Carrying your baby is becoming more common and acceptable, and comfortable backpacks exist to place baby inside. Designed for your active lifestyle as well as baby's safety, you can hike in the wilderness, go camping, and of course, trek across Europe. Traveling as a family builds great bonds and memories, and you'll find the little tyke in the back to be a great icebreaker when meeting new people, no matter which country you go to. There's not a culture in the world who does not love babies!
Plan Your Travel
Granted, that three-month travel fling without a plan in the world will not work with baby. Planning is essential. You will need to think of what to do in emergencies, illness, or just plain crying. You will need to be self-sufficient. A good plan is to make a list of everything baby will need, and pack it in easily-reachable zip-lock bags in a fanny pack. Test any over-the-counter medications with your baby first to see how he'll react – it will not be a good experience if it has the opposite effect! A lot of supplies that you will need, such as disposable diapers and children's Tylenol, are widely available in European cities.
Airflight and Jetlag
When booking a plane, ask in advance for certain conveniences, such as the roomier part of the plane. Some airlines offer cribs or bassinets, and even baby meals. Also, the price of a ticket is vastly discounted, though baby will not get her own seat. Ear pressure can be relieved by nursing, a pacifier, or candy – anything that can be sucked.
Jetlag is harder on babies than on adults. They may be cranky for a few days with the sudden interruption of sleep patterns that they may not have even fully developed. It is probably a good idea to stay in a hotel room upon arrival to recover before beginning your backpacking trip. If you are breastfeeding, the airline flight could dehydrate you.
When planning your route, it is best to think of staying at a few base cities and backpacking out from there. That way you can keep a lot of the supplies back in your room. Childproof the room upon arrival, such as placing masking tape across electrical outlets and placing breakable items out of reach. If you are thinking of hostels or bed and breakfasts, make sure you call ahead, as many do not allow children (not because they're heartless, but because they do not have the supplies.) A hotel room is best, though many hostels do have family rooms. The Internet is great to research for specific accommodations. Also, if just the two of you wish to spend a night on the town, most hotels offer a babysitting service or have information for one.
Crib standards in Europe are not as stringent as in North America, so check the crib supplied by the hotel. If in doubt, have baby sleep in bed with you. If your room has a portable cot, stick chairs underneath to form a makeshift crib. Another option is to bring a portable crib like the Graco Pack'n'Go with you. Babies like security, and though you will love the constant change in scenery, your infant may not. The familiarity of sleeping in the same crib will go a long way towards a peaceful night's sleep.
If baby is still nursing, all is well. Breastfeeding in public is acceptable in most European countries, especially the more south you go, but check to see what is acceptable and what is not in your locale. For older infants, high chairs are not common, and a crying baby in a restaurant is not a good idea (just like in North America). If baby is fussy you can eat outside or order some food and take it back to your hotel room. Make sure the food is not too exotic, or baby could have a bad reaction.
Well, this is a backpacking trip, right? You will likely get a rail pass between cities. Infants under 3 ride free, and older children get deep discounts. Eurail goes to every capital city in Europe, and usually to the downtown area. Trains are fast, smooth and clean, and baby will likely sleep, or older kids will look transfixed out the window. Having a baby with you is always an invitation for smiles, and it is likely you will end up socializing with other passengers.
If you plan the "home base" method, it should be fairly easy to hop on a train with all your supplies, get off near your hotel, and store a lot of baby gear in your room. Then you can go gallivanting, baby style, around town.
The Baby Carrier
Now that you have some idea of how to travel with baby, you need a baby backpack! It can not be stressed enough to buy a carrier well in advance, and to take it for test hikes. This is not only to make sure you are comfortable with it, but also that baby likes it. Remember that baby strives for security, and the more she is taken for a ride in the same backpack, the more familiar and comfortable it will become.
Look for a backpack with a hip belt so a lot of the strain is off your shoulders. Look for good storage compartments for diapers and other baby gear. Do not store any valuables in the pack, as thieves could see you as an opportunity. Better for them to discover a few disposables than your passport!
There are many different kinds of backpack carriers, most designed for particular uses. A frame backpack is bulkier but is also more stable and can hold more storage. Some packs have baby positioned right against your back, which gives you better balance but reduces airflow on your back. Look for models from Kelty, Ergo and Sherpani. A detachable sun visor to protect baby is also a good idea.
When you buy the backpack, make sure it fits both partners. There will often be times that you will want to switch: one person carries the baby, the other carries your own supplies.
A good tip is to bring two carriers with you; a bulkier one for longer excursions between hotels, and a smaller, less bulky day pack while in the city. (It can be folded and stored in the larger carrier when not in use). A lot of people will list the benefits of a stroller over a backpack, but if you've been to Europe, you will know that there are a lot of narrow-lanes, winding streets, numerous steps, uneven cobblestone and roads that suddenly go uphill or downhill – great for a romantic stroll, not so great if you have a stroller! With a light day carrier, both your hands will remain free while you view the sites.
Share Your Baby and Enjoy Your Trip
Taking baby with you can be the most bonding and rewarding time of your life. You and your partner will be even closer as you each care for your child while traveling. If your child is old enough, he may even remember this exciting time in her life – traveling with mom and dad in Paris!