Baby Dylan has always been an avid traveler and he loves being surrounded by new environments. The thing he hates the most is actually sitting at home when parents are working. While traveling with a baby requires more preparation it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be tough and make your travels suck. Quite the opposite actually.
Traveling with babies is definitely easier than with toddlers. When the baby doesn’t walk yet, things are surely easier as you don’t need to chase him around.
A few things to keep in mind before we start:
Each baby behaves slightly differently, so you need to be flexible and adjust to his or her needs. While it may sound tempting to take your first holidays with another family with a baby, I’d say it’s probably not a good idea.
Tips for Traveling in Europe with a Baby
Baby Health Insurance
Babies get sick a lot, so you need to start thinking of travel insurance, even if you previously haven’t. While you should always have health insurance when you travel even without your family, with babies it’s a must.
The good news is that quite often you can just add your baby to your own policy without an extra charge. We did it numerous times with Safety Wing and actually had to use it for unexpected doctor’s visits when he suddenly got eczema (for which bamboo clothing helps actually).
Booking Flights for Your Baby
Unlike in the US, where babies under 2 fly for free and don’t need a passport, in Europe you have to pay for their flights and have their passport.
Without a valid ID your infant will not be able to fly and you’ll be stranded at the airport. A birth certificate does NOT count as an ID.
You also need to pre-book your baby’s ticket online at the same time you’re booking yours, unlike in the US when you need to call the airline to add an infant in arms to your own ticket.
Don’t worry though, it’s not a fully priced ticket. You usually need to pay 10% of the regular fare, or a special baby fare on cheap airlines like Ryanair or Wizzair.
Does Traveling with a Baby Give You Priority? Not always.
One of the most common things I read on other blogs is that traveling with a baby gives you priority. Jumping the queue at the car rental office, priority boarding, and so on.
Let me tell you honestly that’s only partially true and NEVER don’t count on it. I’ve never had anyone letting me skip the line at the rental car place. Never, and we must have rented about 10 cars already. Quite often when traveling in Italy when Dylan was just a month old we had to sit on the sidewalk in the sun waiting for the attendant to finally give us a car.
Even when the sign says there’s a priority for pregnant women and babies it doesn’t mean that you’ll always get it automatically. You can ask, but it’s not guaranteed. When re-entering the US we always had to wait in line for a long time, regardless of the airport.
There were many other families with kids around us and everyone was in the same situation. It just doesn’t work that way, even if your baby is screaming his lungs out.
Europeans also travel with their babies and kids more often than Americans. That means that when they call for priority boarding for families it means at least 40 people are boarding with you. I remember one time on a flight from Rome to Boston pretty much every single family had a baby or toddler with them.
Also, if you need to reach your plane from the gate by bus, which is super common in Europe, forget about any priority. You’ll be able to get into the bus first, but then everyone will push out to the plane – unless you have your stroller folded and ready to move forward with determination you’re probably going to be the last on the plane (this is why you need a lightweight travel stroller to take on board, not to leave at the gate).
Most airports in Europe have a special family lane for security, but it doesn’t do much. You often end up in the same line as everyone else after skipping like 5 people in front of you. In my experience families naturally move slower through security, so I tend to rather stand behind single travelers so the line moves quickly.
I’ve had good or bad experiences when going through security, but let me tell you one thing – even at the same airport the rules could be different depending on the day.
One day you’ll be able to roll your baby through the x-ray in the stroller, other time you need to take your baby out. One day you have to fold the stroller and put it on a screening belt, another time they want you to give it to them to swab it. There’s no one set of rules anywhere.
One thing is always clear though: even if your baby is fast asleep in your baby carrier you cannot walk through the x-ray machine with him in a carrier. You’ll be forced to take the baby out, hence why I think baby carriers for airports are pretty useless.
Seatbelts for Babies on Planes
The biggest difference between American flights and European flights is seatbelts. In the US when your baby flies on your lap you just need to hold him.
In Europe, you’ll be given a baby seatbelt that’s an extension to your own seatbelt. Naturally, both continents think that what the other one is doing is unsafe and wrong. Same with car seat regulations as car seats are different in Europe than they’re in the USA (more on this further down AKA why don’t bring your car seat to Europe).
Why Do You Need a Special Travel Stroller for Europe? What Makes A Great Travel Stroller For Europe?
YES, you do need a smaller stroller for traveling around Europe. There’s no question about it.
If anyone reading this has ever traveled to Europe with a big American stroller like my Uppababy Vista (which works in the US for one child, I used to have it), you know it’s a pain in the butt. Save yourself some nerves and leave this giant monster at home.
Oh, and stroller wagons are NOT a thing in Europe. 20+ years I spent in Europe I’ve never seen anyone with it anywhere and when I show all my European friends that these things are popular they laugh that it looks like a farm truck. Unless you want to get the looks, don’t. Apart from the fact that you also won’t fit absolutely anywhere with it.
While I love strolling with it in the US, when I’m in Europe it’s simply sitting in my apartment untouched while I roll around with a travel stroller. Why?
a) Doorways are Small
First of all: doors. In places like Italy or France doors are smaller, and you won’t be able to enter many places with a giant monster-truck, as we named our Uppababy Vista stroller.
In fact, I couldn’t even leave my own apartment in Italy (where we lived) without having to open an extra set of heavy doors.
When I visited some friends or hotels there was no way it could fit. In Rome, we had to fold the stroller every time when entering and leaving the elevator at the hotel, which was super annoying.
Not to mention that I couldn’t even enter some aisles in the supermarket with a big stroller either.
b) You Can’t Take Your Stroller Inside to Many Restaurants
Many charming restaurants and cafes are short on space and you may be unable to wheel the stroller in, or even keep it beside you. In Italy, you frequently see all the strollers folded outside while people are having their meals.
When Dylan was below 3 months enough we used to unclip the car seat to bring him in while leaving the stroller outside. Later he was just sitting in a high chair.
c) You Often Need to Lift Your Stroller to Get Into Public Transportation
Not all buses, metro or trams have a flat entry, so you need to lift your travel stroller to pass the gap or a step. Not something you want to do with anything but a lightweight stroller. Some public buses in Verona were actually those old school buses with just an aisle where the stroller doesn’t fit at all so you need to quickly fold the stroller, baby out and bring all their things up the stairs of the bus.
The entrances and exits to get in and out of the subway system also often not wheelchair accessible or stroller accessible, so there are times when you will have to take the stroller entirely apart, lift it over the top of the gates and then walk through while putting your child in your arms.
It’s not difficult with a small stroller, but if you’re coming with a giant stroller fully packed with stuff underneath, it’s going to turn into a nightmare especially in crowded places in the summer.
d) Strollers Aren’t Allowed Everywhere
Many historical sites and sightseeing places do not allow strollers in and may require you to leave them at the entrance, unattended. Unless you invest in a bike locker, a smaller lightweight stroller you can easily carry with a shoulder strap or stored at the ticket booth.
This happened on every occasion in Matera in Italy. We (barely) managed with the Uppababy but to be perfectly honest it was mostly I carry the baby and my husband carries the stroller.
Looking back, we should have had a baby carrier instead, but when it’s hot outside it’s not always the best solution.
Things to Consider About a Travel Stroller for Europe
Lightweight travel strollers, also known as umbrella strollers, with cheap frames tend to fall apart on cobblestones within 5 minutes. This is why most Europeans gave up on traditional old-style umbrella type strollers especially in places with beautiful old towns like Italy, Czech Republic or Malta.
While everyone will tell you that big wheels are a must, I found that it’s not the case of the size, but quality of the wheels and the suspension.
Small wheels of Babyzen Yoyo stroller or Cybex stroller work just fine on cobblestones and curbs, but GB Pockit+ with the same size of wheels struggled everywhere. More on my stroller comparisons here.
Don’t even think about cobblestones without suspension on your wheels, unless you’re up for a backache on your first day.
If you want to enjoy the European lifestyle, where kids are out in restaurants passed 10 PM, you need to think about recline.
Unlike in the US where most babies ride in a cat seat on top of the stroller, in Europe bassinets are a big thing. You will be yelled at for dragging your child around in things like Doona or car seats, because it’s simply unhealthy for baby’s spine to use car seats as strollers for infants.
While an “older baby” doesn’t need a fully flat recline to sleep and almost flat does just fine, I invested in an extra footrest for Babyzen Yoyo stroller.
My Vista stroller was easy to fold, but I needed two hands to collapse it and unfold. This quickly became a problem on my travels and I’d tell you: one-hand fold is a must. Especially for airports.
Most travel strollers have a tiny canopy, which leaves the kids exposed to sun and screaming. As the sun is horrible to babies, make sure that the canopy is large enough or/and you bring an extra shawl to cover your baby.
Did You Know That American Car Seats are Illegal in Europe, and Vice Versa?
The car seat issue is tricky. Technically, American car seats are illegal in Europe and Canada too.
We used our American car seat for months in Europe without realizing it, but if we were stopped we could have paid a fine. If we got into an accident, insurance companies would refuse coverage if the car seat was not EU approved.
Europeans require to require that the child can be removed from the car seat in a single motion, which means a chest clip is a big no.
Another difference is ISOfix and LATCH attachment. The third difference is that all US-certified forward-facing car seats must have a top-tether strap. European forward-facing car seats are not required to have a top-tether strap although some of the heavier ones will.
What to Know & How to Prepare for Staying in a Hotel in Europe with a Baby?
The first and most important thing is to check whether the hotel you’re planning on booking actually accepts kids. Many hotels, especially in more popular spots like Positano or Santorini, aren’t kids friendly at all. In fact, you cannot even go to their restaurants with kids.
If you’re booking a fancy hotel always call them and check with them about their kid regulations. I actually gave up on staying at one hotel in Italy because Booking.com said “hotel not suitable for children” but when I called it turned out it was just a mistake in the system.
While it’s understandable that some people prefer kids-free stays, make sure you actually check the rules. I also noticed that some hotels accept kids but only over 8 years old. That said, always check the small print and kids’ rules.
Personally, I never travel with a pack-and-play travel crib, simply because it’s too much to carry and you can just ask for one wherever you go – hotel or Airbnb. If a crib isn’t possible I used to co-sleep with my baby when he was small and transitioned him to Montessori floor bed once he was mobile, so he slept on the floor mattress in hotels up until he was 1. Later, we got inflatable and travel-friendly bed bumpers and he sleeps on a bed these days.
Cultural Differences & Baby Treatment in Europe:
It’s impossible to generalize and say ‘this is how Europeans treat babies’, because Europe – while small comparing to the US, has different cultures and hence people act differently.
Traveling with a Baby to Italy
Italy is considered a very baby-loving place – they love children and will make every effort to make you and your kids feel welcome. However, baby products are expensive comparing to the US (apart from clothes) and I can honestly say that baby facilities at public places are lacking.
Most restaurants don’t have changing tables, so I often have to change my baby on a bathroom floor or in a sink (this is why changing mat is a must!), as you can’t even roll the stroller inside (doors are too small and bathrooms are usually up or down the stairs).
The staff makes up for the lack of facilities and always wants to play with the baby, show you photos of their babies, and even sings the songs.
Crying baby at the restaurant? People will ask if they can help or tell you that it gets better.
The love for babies comes with people always wanted to stop and stare inside your stroller, or make faces to them in the supermarket for a long time. It’s slightly annoying if you ask me, but my now-toddler totally brought this habit back to the US from Italy and always bugs strangers at the supermarket these days.
Traveling with a Baby to France
From my observations kids in France were super well-behaved, babies included. People were friendly to babies, but without the obsessiveness which was quite refreshing to me after Italy.
Facilities were always slightly limited, similar to Italy, but I’d still say it’s one of the best places in Europe to travel with a baby.
I swear everyone has a Yoyo stroller in France. It’s a French company, so it’s not surprising but French people are practical with strollers it seems.
Traveling with a Baby to Poland
I don’t think that anyone really cared for my baby in Poland (my first son was born in Poland). Unless he was outside without a baby hat haha. Polish grandparents have an obsession with babies having to have a hat on, so when we were rolling outside without it people would loudly ask “where is his hat?”.
While I had friendly people helping me get on and off public transportation, no one really stared inside my stroller to see how the baby looks like.
Surprisingly, I found Poland a great place for baby travel. There are plenty of new playgrounds everywhere, many malls even have feeding and changing rooms with microwaves, milk heaters and calming music.
In Warsaw, I was also able to bring Dylan to a spa during certain hours, which was wonderful.
Traveling with an Infant to Malta
Malta was definitely not a baby-friendly place. I traveled there on my own when my LO was just a few months old and encountered a nightmare. Getting into public transportation was a mission impossible, most taxis didn’t even have seatbelts, streets were narrow if there was even a sidewalk in some parts of the island like St Julians, non-existent facilities and everywhere was way overcrowded.
When I was traveling with my Babyzen Yoyo stroller many local women have stopped me asking whether I got it in Malta, as they’d love to have one. Overall, it was a weird experience and would not recommend it.
Traveling with a Baby to Slovenia
Slovenia was a fantastic place to go with a baby. Everyone was always friendly and accommodating, even if their facilities didn’t necessarily allow that. Most touristy spots were flat, didn’t stumble upon ‘no kids allowed’ at any hotels – in fact, everywhere we went there were plenty of kids including glamping spots.
We were able to rent a boat, eat out and enjoy ourselves without a feeling that we’d bother anyone.
Any questions on traveling to Europe with a baby?