22 July 2015

How we traveled to Europe with a six-month-old

Now that I’ve recapped our Norwegian adventure, let me take a day to tell you a little bit about what I was frantically googling for weeks before our departure: HOW TO TAKE A BABY TO EUROPE. Or a million other SEO-optimized phrases, all of which were centered around the same sentiment, and mostly were read with retail therapy in mind. Yes, given the chance, I was perfectly willing to buy my way to a happy Norwegian trip with my six month old.

Of course, in the end, Baby P’s even temperament was the reason our trip went so well. But if you too need to take a small baby to Europe, here’s the tips and gear that I think helped us out immensely. Money well spent!

Fly British Airways (or at least in bulkhead seats)

This tip comes from my wonderful friend and guiding light for taking a baby to Europe. Last year, she and her husband brought their five-month old daughter to Switzerland!

When I wrote her in February asking for advice, she strongly recommended flying BA, as they have these nifty little child seats that they attach to the wall in front of the bulkhead seats. Sure, lots of airlines have bassinets like that, but Baby P (98th percentile for length, remember) outgrew those months ago. BA’s little chair is sufficient for a baby nearly twice his weight, though, and he wasn’t too long at all. He wasn’t exactly a huge fan – he maybe only slept in it a couple of hours – but I needed it. When you are lugging around a wiggly baby during a 24-hour travel marathon, you will be grateful for every break you get!

(Also useful as a table for storing all your junk!)

Unfortunately we couldn’t fly BA on the way to Norway because my job requires I book with a domestic carrier, so we got an American flight on the way over and a partnered, BA-operated flight on the way back. American didn’t have the child seat, but it was still worth it to be in bulkhead seats – so much more freedom of movement, and worth every penny for the seven hour flights.

Don’t skip the nursing cover

Because I’m a chronically light packer, I heavily debated whether it was worth bringing an actual nursing cover, or just going with a scarf. Now that I’ve nursed a baby all over Oslo – on planes, while enjoying the Folk Museum, in a random corner of the conference center – I can say without a doubt that a good nursing cover is WORTH IT. The rigid hoop-neck thing is a must. I have this brand:

It’s also worth noting that even though Baby P hasn’t had formula in his life, I still haven’t nursed him much in public (we’ll just do a bottle of expressed milk if going out). So we had to practice a bit at home with the cover before we traveled, because he was really dang confused at first.

Oh, and the nursing cover can serve a bunch of roles on the plane, thus minimizing the amount of junk you have out in your lap (with the baby). It’s for privacy for nursing, but also a blanket, a way to block the sun, even a bib and a burp cloth. And because I usually had to nurse Baby P to sleep on the plane (again, he’s always been a crib sleeper), it was useful to block out distractions to allow him to fall asleep in the first place.

By all means, pack light, but don’t neglect to bring a nursing cover.

Bring the bottles

Speaking of nursing, I didn’t think I’d need to bring a bunch of milk or bottles – didn’t I just say I could nurse him on the plane?! Well, a coworker advised that I have them just in case; he needed to swallow occasionally to equalize the pressure in his ears, especially during long landings, and might be too fussy to stay latched. And while I don’t advocate force-feeding babies, it was good to pop the bottle in his mouth to drink a bit every time my own ears signaled a change in pressure.

Considering I only saw Baby P rub his ears once, and he was pretty chill (for an overtired baby, at least) on takeoffs and landings, I think having a bottle on backup did the trick. (Oh, and if you’re wondering about packing expressed milk – it’s extra time/questions at security, yes, but everyone was respectful and it was not ever a real problem. The flight attendants brought us cups of hot water to heat the milk, too. So worth it!)

Inflatable nursing pillow

One last feeding-related tip, again for the nursing baby. Baby P and I are still big Boppy fans, but I wasn’t about to carry an entire extra pillow all the way to Norway. Fortunately I found THIS:

The company name is a little nose-crinkly to me, so I’m just going to call this what it is: an inflatable Boppy! I thought maybe I could make do with whatever pillows I found at our apartment, but this was just better. That said, it did spring a leak, which was super annoying. I inflated it to try out when I got it and it stayed inflated for WEEKS – it happened when I rolled it up to transport it, I guess. Even with the leak, though, I was glad I had it!

The UPPAbaby G-luxe: our go-to stroller

Remember when I said I fell down a rabbit hole of watching youtube videos of stroller comparisons? I already knew when I was watching them that I liked the UPPAbaby G series – super highly rated, lightweight, and affordable. But I wasn’t sure which to get, so I was studying videos. And the one I remember most today is this one, comparing the UPPAbaby G-Lite with the G-Luxe. I remember that one specifically because that’s when I decided which stroller to get: the G-Luxe reclines, and the G-Lite doesn’t. We wanted stroller naps if possible, and the G-Luxe helped us do that!

But aside from Baby P’s comfort – which, judging from his willingness to ride around in his stroller for days, is pretty high – Mr. P and I have really enjoyed this stroller. So much, even, that we invested in the fancy UPPA carrying case and the rain cover. We love this stroller and we want to use it a long time, in all sorts of weather.

The only downside to this stroller was that it totally marked us as tourists in Norway. Babies in Oslo ride around in these huge-wheeled, non-collapsible prams, lying flat and facing upwards. But we were ok with the tourist brand, and anyway, a few Norwegians were impressed when they saw our stroller collapse down to nothing and our ability to carry it on our backs. So if that’s the only downside, I think I chose well!

Apartment through airbnb

When I was looking at hotels in Norway, I realized a few things (prompted by discussion with my fellow traveling mother, above):

1) Baby P goes to bed much earlier than Mr. P and me, meaning we’d be stuck in the dark and quiet for hours each night in a regular hotel room
2) We would also miss dinner at a reasonable hour, also because of the early bedtime
3) We didn’t really want to eat dinner out anyway, because it’s so freaking expensive
4) And besides, I’d be spending my evening washing bottles and pump parts after being at the conference away from Baby P.

Fortunately, all of those problems could be solved easily if we could just rent an apartment, with extra space (so we didn’t have to shut down at 7pm) and a kitchen (so we could cook some meals and wash baby gear). And even more fortunately, I found a place on airbnb that fit the bill!

Forgive the awful photo from our first night, with our belongings strewn everywhere, and instead focus on all the family-friendly SPACE:


Thanks to the well-supplied kitchen and a grocery run, Mr. P and I had a few basic (but cheap!) dinners here after Baby P’s bedtime.


Better yet, the bed and bathroom area in this studio apartment was behind a separating curtain, and the hallway/closet area beyond had room to tuck away his crib (it looks creepy and desolate here, but I promise he was like four feet from our bed, though I cannot explain those weird shadows):


Note the battery-operated sound machine I’ve mentioned before – perfect for drowning out our murmured conversations. Oh, and speaking of that crib...

My favorite small, lightweight travel crib

The downside to not staying in a hotel is, of course, that we had to bring our own crib. Having the apartment was fantastic, but lugging our inherited pack-n-play (with all its bells and whistles and apparently lead weights sewn into the lining) was not worth it. So instead we brought this lightweight travel crib, a generous gift from Mr. P's parents:

It’s definitely smaller than a pack-n-play crib (and requires a special sheet, which Baby P’s grandparents were thoughtful enough to include) – but even for beanpole Baby P, there’s room for him to stretch out. The mattress was firm for a baby yet cushy enough to be on the floor, and the carrying bag was durable enough to survive a trip through the checked luggage. Most of all, Baby P doesn’t seem to mind sleeping in it once he got used to the new place!

This wouldn’t be appropriate for a baby that can stand up, but fortunately Baby P is content to stay where you put him for now. And until then, this will continue to be our go-to travel crib!

And finally...

Space bags for diapers

One night a few months ago, Mr. P was playing around with an English-to-Norwegian online translator, asking it to say things like “hello” and “excuse me”. I said, “We need to know how to say ‘diapers’.” In my mind, carrying diapers halfway around the world seemed ridiculous – we could just buy them there, right?

But then I did the math and realized that Baby P doesn’t go through that many diapers a day anymore. A little more thinking helped me see how complicated it might be to find diapers in Oslo. Finally I decided we’d just take diapers – but I’d have to pack them in a super compact manner. And for that, I was glad we had no-vacuum-required space bags.

These aren’t the exact kind we have, but close enough. With the space bag I was able to make a much smaller pack of diapers – one I could stick in the crib carry bag, even!

And so with all this gear, it probably sounds – and looks – like we traveled really heavy. Relatively speaking, I guess we did, but in total, we had two carry-on suitcases, two checked bags (the crib, and a small duffel), and our own diaper bags (Mr. P’s is a backpack). Add in the gate-checked stroller, and we didn’t have as heavy a load as other parents I saw.

So that’s most of how we did it! It took lots of planning and a few extra purchases, but in the end, we still had fun and an experience to remember. And as an added bonus: we’re prepared for every other trip we take now, and it seems super easy!