Travelling overseas with kids: What it’s REALLY like

I just went to Europe with a baby and a toddler. Here’s what it was REALLY like

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It’s the four words that can strike the fear of god into any parent – travelling overseas with kids. And there are usually two types of people – those who grab it with both hands and seize the opportunity and those who are more than happy to wait until their kids are out of nappies before they jump on a long-haul flight with their little ones. 

Me and my partner fall into the first camp and are just back from a month away in Italy with my 10-month-old and three-year-old in tow. Like anything in life, there were the good bits (daily gelato! Pizza and pasta for days! Meeting up with so many special friends both new and old, watching our girls be embraced with open arms by the locals) and the not-so-good bits (my youngest cut a whole new mouth of teeth while we were away and we all know a teething baby is never fun, way too much screen time (the theme song of Paw Patrol is still ringing in my head) and tanties galore). 

Alas, I’m here to tell you what it was really like, if it was worth the monumental effort (I legit started packing about two weeks out – why do babies need so much stuff? Not to mention the military-level of behind-the-scenes planning my partner undertook to make sure our trip was as seamless as possible) and whether or not I’d do it again…

Your kids may surprise you with the long-haul travel 

When we planned our trip, it was originally supposed to happen in 2020 when we only had one kid who could still travel for free and sit on our laps. The plan was to take her to Europe when she was in peak blob mode and couldn’t walk. You know that glorious stage around four to five months when they’re happy to still sleep anywhere and just nuzzle on your lap and not move around? Then a little thing called COVID happened and derailed that plan. 

Fast-forward two years and a whole other child later and we were finally on our way to Italy with a three-year-old and a very wriggly 10-month-old on the cusp of walking.

My partner and I were mentally prepared for an absolute sh-t fight of a flight there and back but you know what? Hand on heart, they both surprised us. Sure, it wasn’t fun and extremely draining but the girls managed to sleep quite a bit. The toddler was happy to watch her iPad while devouring snacks and thought the whole journey was an exciting adventure. We managed to secure a coveted bassinet seat for the baby and it meant she could sleep in there instead of on us. When she was awake, we also used the bassinet as a playpen for her. We really don’t give our kids enough credit for how adaptable they are!  

We decided to break up the flight both ways with a day’s stop-over in Singapore, which I think really helped them recoup and rest, too. 

The key takeaways from the flight:

  • Any sleep is a win!
  • Surrender to screentime 
  • However many snacks you think you need for the flight, triple it (same goes for nappies and spare clothes for the whole family. Don’t wear anything nice on the plane, you’re your kid’s glorified serviette after all) 
  • Pre-book the kids’ meals on the flight ahead of time
  • When you’re in a particularly trying moment (like trying to change your baby crocodile’s nappy in a closet-sized bathroom), just visualise eating that first mouthful of pizza in Rome  

There’s something really special about watching your kids grow up in a new country 

When we left Sydney, Tilly had a grand total of two teeth and Edie was unable to swim. By the time the holiday was over, Tilly had an entire mouth of new chompers (no joke!) and was so, so close to being able to walk. Meanwhile, our little fish Edie had taught herself how to swim in the hotel pool.

If these moments had played out in the backdrop of our busy everyday lives, we may have missed taking the time to fully appreciate these special milestones. 

Having kids the same age to meet up with is a MUST 

At the start of our holiday, we spent a few nights in Rome. Now, don’t get me wrong, Rome is one of the most breathtaking cities in the world with magic around every corner. But my three-year-old doesn’t give a crap about the Colosseum. The days in Rome with the girls were longggg and we reverted to padding out Edie’s schedule with Paw Patrol on the iPad. 

We felt guilty but we needn’t have worried because by the end of the holiday, we spent a week with our good friends and their son, who is one of Edie’s besties and the exact same age as her. The two had the time of their lives playing for hours on end together.

So from now on, where possible, we’re always going to try and have little friends the same age as our girls. It makes such a difference when they have a pal to play with and create their own memories with.  

Teething and tantrums don’t take a break just because you’re on vacay… 

Ahh, if only they did! But the perils of parenting follow you no matter where you go – and that means even when you’re on holiday. There was the usual broken sleep, musical beds, toddler tanties, food negotiations and poo explosions… But it doesn’t feel quite as tedious when you’re wiping a bum while gazing at the rolling hills from your Tuscan villa (I know, I want to punch Past Me too). 

Having a base really helped 

Pre-kids, there was nothing more exciting than trying to fit as many countries into your Euro trip as physically possible in just a few short weeks.

These days, I’m all about embracing the less is more approach to travel. Our goal was to not have one single internal flight while we were in Italy (ain’t nobody has time to deal with the stress of transit days with kids and lost luggage, especially when it’s full of our go-to formula and nappies). So instead of city hopping, we slowly worked our way through three key destinations, which were all accessible by car or train. The kids travelled so well with these modes of transport and once we arrived at our destination, we were there for at least a week which meant the girls could get settled and have a familiar base. 

The hard work is 100% worth it

Despite the fact that we often felt like a travelling circus with our endless amount of luggage (x2 large suitcases, x2 car seats, the pram, a carry-on wheelie bag, a backpack full of snacks, a kid’s scooter and the actual children), I wouldn’t change it for the world. By the end of the holiday, we had well and truly found our groove and life was good. People told us we were crazy going overseas with the girls but we did it! In fact, our first trip to Europe as a family was so good we’re already planning our next adventure for 2023. I think I might start packing the bags now.

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