With my companion, we used to travel once a year. Not necessarily far, usually in Europe. These last years, we were to Rome, Istanbul, Bavaria and the Loire Valley castles. That was before we became parents.
Last week, we enjoyed our first real trip in the company of a baby. By real trip, I mean something more than visiting my mother (even if she lives about 500 km from us). I basically mean a tourist trip.
We were reasonable and picked a not too far away destination: Brittany. Arthurian geeks will know it, for that’s the homeland of Lancelot, and location of Brocéliande Forest, the other ones may wish to check it.
Don’t expect a funny catastrophe tale: things went well. I only mean to share a few experiences, choices and gadgets and encourage you to travel with babies as well. In every place we went, we were amazed by the number of tourists with babies and toddlers. I can’t remember, of course, if there were as many of them a few years ago. Probably yes. We just hadn’t noticed before we were parents.
Anyway, traveling with a baby comes with a number of problems to solve.
Problem #1: The Journey
As most young parents, we traveled by car, to bother no one but us. There’s a lot of geek possibilities to entertain children during car drives… but babies? Babies will neither play with an iPad, nor do “License Plates” (the game exists in France, too), nor any kind of looking or word game. We did the same as every parent in the world: tie a few toys to his baby car seat, put a few other toys on the seat beside him, let the non-driving-parent sing to him and pull funny faces and perform nursery rhymes with hand motions. And hope he’d sleep more. We also decided to part the journey in two and sleep one night in a Bed & Breakfast (French people say chambre d’hôtes), as to have shorter car drives.
Problem #2: The Lodgings
With a baby, the sensible choice was to rent a house for a week. That allows to have dinner at “home” every night while the baby’s in bed; to stay at home if the child is unwell, the weather too bad or the parents too tired. And we don’t have to bother about neighbors if the baby’s crying. Plus, such rentals usually come with a washing machine, which is a huge advantage with a baby! It’s also cheaper than hotel. In France, many families choose to rent “holiday cottages” (or apartments). I don’t know if the same thing is possible in the US. If you travel in France, you may check the Gîtes de France website (in English) to find such an accommodation. If you can’t afford it, there’s another great possibility for families: house swapping. I haven’t experienced it but friends of mine have. They’re also parents of a baby and they really appreciated it. They swapped their home in our mountains with one in Provence.
Problem #3: The Meals
If you choose rental or home exchange, dinner won’t be a problem. You’ll be able to feed the baby, put him/her to sleep in her/his bedroom, then have your own quiet dinner in your holiday house. That’s what we did, and we were content to rest and spend our evenings to read or chat. But what about lunches? Of course, we could have come back home every midday, but that would have made our program quite complicated. Since we are lucky enough to have a (usually) gentle baby, eager to eat in any conditions, we chose to have lunch outside. We ate in restaurants in the place of our daily visits, and so did the baby. If you’re traveling parents, you have surely noticed that restaurants have few baby high chairs (if any). We really appreciated the smallest and more practical portable baby seat: the Sack n’Seat. It can be adapted to almost any chair and it’s really, really handy.
Problem #4: The Carrying
If you’re used to visiting historic sites, you probably noticed they have a lot of stairs. And stairs are baby strollers’ greatest enemy! We chose to carry our son in a child carrier made for trekking parents: the Deuter Kid Comfort II. It’s quite expensive, but great: your back suffers less than with a traditional baby carrier and the child is very comfortable. It’s only for babies old enough to sit, though. But you can go everywhere and steps aren’t a problem.
Of course, a first vacation with a child is meant to be different than any previous vacation. But we were lucky, and found a balance between grown-up moments (such as visiting the Mont St Michel or St Malo) and baby’s delights (such as his discovery of sea, sand and mud. Mostly mud.)
Since I’m a professional literature geek, my title was a poor reference to Umberto Eco’s How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays.