Since getting back from Germany, I’ve been thinking about what might have made our travels with our toddler a little bit easier. This definitely was a tougher trip than when we went to Italy with M as a six month old baby. I recognize we will never be traveling to Europe with an 18 month old ever again, but hopefully some of these thoughts might help some of the other parents out there!
A couple notes – all my thoughts are as a parent of ONE child, I’m sure some other bloggers at Saverocity know a lot more about traveling with multiple kids. Secondly, as Tip 1 will quite clearly illustrate, we traveled in a unique situation that made life a LOT easier.
Tip 1: Bring backup
If you’ve been paying attention to our travels in Germany, you’ll no doubt know that my parents came along with us. In fact, we had the entire Lufthansa first class cabin to ourselves on the outbound. I recognize the blessing it is to have a wife who gets along well with her in-laws AND grandparents who are willing to travel with us AND grandparents who have healthy mileage balances so they could pay their own way.
But I’m sure I don’t have to tell the parents out there that having backup makes a huge difference. My parents watched M on two different occasions, giving Jess and me the opportunity to bike and hike. They also watched M once when she was asleep so we could run down to the bar to grab a drink.
Any hour, or even minute, you get as a parent to mentally take a break from the stress of parenting is invaluable. Not to mention the fact that there are two more pairs of hands around when navigating transportation, dining, etc. So if you have a nanny, or good friends/a group willing to travel with you, or in-laws wanting to spend more time with their grandkids, why not use them if it makes sense?
I bet this even could apply to families who travel domestically together, say, to Disney World or something. At least that’s my best guess!
Tip 2: Take it easy and build in lots of R&R
One of the reasons I love Europe is there is so much to do – museusm to see, castles to visit, food to eat, etc. I once made Jess get a 2-day Museum Pass in Paris (not to be confused with the overpriced Paris Pass btw) and we hit up six or seven sites in less than 48 hours (she still hasn’t forgiven me). Those days are long gone.
Instead, toddlers force you to embrace the slower paced cafe culture that Europe offers. Sit at a cafe, let your kid run around in a park or one of the many city squares, take a long after dinner stroll. We rarely planned to do more than one big attraction per day and that generally worked out pretty well. We went to Germany knowing we would miss some great sights and thus weren’t disappointed about missing anything.
We kind of worked around nap times – either we would use them to rest ourselves, or if M fell asleep in the stroller we’d take advantage and visit some place where we needed her to be quiet. I’d just recommend relax-y schedule works for you and going with it. You’re gonna be tempted to push it every once in awhile – just pick and choose your spots.
Tip 3: Split time at “grownup” museums or just stick to the kid-friendly ones
Jess and I are big fans of art, but the reality is art museums aren’t very conducive to screaming toddlers (including happy screams). Neither are museums about heavy material like World War II. While we were in Garmisch-Partenkirchen and greater Bavaria, it wasn’t really a big deal because museums were either small or pretty low key. Salzburg and Vienna were a different story though.
Here’s what I’d recommend. I generally ended up missing most of my time at the museum anyway because M would need stimulation. She was pretty bored (or antsy) at most of the bigger museums we went to so I usually took her to the cafe for a snack or played with her in the open areas. Jess was able to visit the museum during these times, and then we’d switch. Not ideal, but we both at least got to see something. I think with one kid, divide and conquer can work pretty well for the more reserved museums.
The alternative, of course, is to skip those kinds of museums altogether and stick to kid friendly ones. M was a huge fan of the Naturhistoriches, the natural history museum in Vienna. Both Vienna and Salzburg had children’s museums, and some of the music museums are pretty fun for a toddler because there are a lot of interactive exhibits (either media or even stuff you can bang on). I think Haus der Musik would be great for toddlers and when we went (after 8 PM) it wasn’t very crowded at all.
Ultimately, don’t expect to spend an entire day at the Louvre and you will set yourself up for success (though the Louvre is so crowded I bet nobody would notice a tantrum here or there anyway).
Tip 4: Always carry distractions and snacks
This one is pretty obvious but I write it here because it’s so easy to forget your “bag” and then you’re suddenly in the Prado with nothing! There is a LOT of awesome stuff you can get at the dollar store that can distract toddlers for extended periods of time, but for my money nothing is better than the one dollar sticker rolls you can get. Yes, we left stickers in random places like Lufthansa First Class but it kept M occupied.
I also think it’s important to leave the hotel every day with water and snacks because you never know what’s going to happen. Having food options for the toddler is a must. We bought some Manchego which we cut into “string” cheese (M doesn’t peel it yet so she doesn’t know the difference), grabbed an apple from the hotel, etc. etc. Crackers and biscuits you can get in Europe are great, hit up the local grocery store and stock up. Oh, and ask the hotel to clear out the minibar so a) your toddler doesn’t get you charged by those electronic ones and b) so you can store your food and milk.
Tip 5: Bring your favorite child carrier
I am sure some kids don’t like being in a carrier (Beco, Ergo, Bjorn, or whatever), but ours doesn’t mind and it proved invaluable on this trip. There are times when a stroller won’t cut it, or you need compression and calm to help force a nap, or simply times where you are tired of rolling over cobblestone. We didn’t use our Beco everyday, but we used it many times – it’s also useful in those art museums – if you can get the toddler to sleep you can explore relatively unencumbered. As an added benefit you get a ton of exercise.
Tip 6: Picnic or takeout to make meals easier
If you’re going to Europe I think buying your own bread, meat, and cheese for a picnic is a great way to eat whether you have kids or not. With kids there’s the added benefit of simplicity and control that comes from making a picnic. Go to Spar, Tenglemann, or any local grocer and grab some supplies. You can people watch in a park where there is tons of space for your kid to run around. The best benefit? You save a bunch of money too.
Tip 7: When you’re presented with difficult situations, just go with it
This is kind of a catch all and of course parents do this whether they are at home or abroad. But you’re gonna run into situations you weren’t prepared for – lack of changing table, tantrums, places where strollers aren’t allowed, flash storms – it’s important just to stay calm and to go with it. One of the examples that stood out to me on this trip happened at a museum – I took M to change only to find there was no changing table in the men’s room (this after walking up and down a flight of stairs trying to follow some poor signage). I then walked in circles with M looking for Jess until we gave up. Ultimately, M got her diaper changed on the bathroom floor. Am I proud of it? No. Did it get the job done? Yes. Just do what you gotta do to survive.
These were seven things that stood out to me from our time in Europe with M. I think some of these points can be applied generally if you have multiple kids, but those of you who have them probably know better than me already. So far we haven’t been to a country that didn’t seem to love kids, so that’s a definite positive for visiting Europe. It seems Italy, Germany, and Austria all seem to love babies so that really helped us in our travels. Feel free to sound off in the comments if you’ve found any tips or tricks that are useful for toddlers (or kids of any age) in Europe!