Will and I have been determined to travel with our son (and hopefully future children) as much as we can but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t intimidating, especially the days leading up to a big trip. Our son has traveled with us a lot, he has gone to the West coast a handful of times, Europe twice and up and down the East coast often. I actually find that the more we do it, the easier it is. The most nervous I have been to travel is when we are entirely out of practice. There was one six week period early (maybe 7 or 8 months old) on where we traveled four times (including one of our West coast trips) and it became quite breezy because it was a set part of our routine. This time before we left for France for our extended stay, we spent more time at home in Charleston than we have in years, and so I was feeling a bit panicked. Regardless, I could easily remember how worth it it all is as last year’s memory was fresh in my mind.
Flying to Europe
A redeye is great if you have a decent sleeper. If you can, do an extra seat. We never did it and we made it through just fine, back of the plane, hopefully not in the middle. I do recommend booking flights on the phone and talking to an emphatic operator. On more than one occasion, booking on the phone on JetBlue (local flights) and Delta has helped us get better seats — either the very front of the plane, which is desirable with a baby for so many reasons, or on a longer flight, in a two seat set rather than a middle row of four, which is far more comfortable. Even if it is miserable, remember that it’s just a blip in time. If there’s a meltdown, so be it. Most people on the flight have either had children and wish to relate to you about one excruciating flight experience or they have noise-canceling headphones and are just thrilled its not them.
I try to remind myself to just relax, go with the flow, bring baby carrier and lots of new toys. Sticker books, a white board, and big legos were our go-to’s this time around. My best friend traveled from San Diego to France to join us this year with her six month old and told me that she asked the hostesses to tell her all the worst things they had seen over a glass of wine — fantastic idea!
I forgo a handbag and just use a diaper bag packed to the brim with new toys, snacks, water bottles, extra pacifiers (because our guy still uses his), diapers, wipes, sanitizer, milk etc. I also dress comfortably, and this time I switched from jeans into something more comfortable on the flight which was life-changing. Growing up, my mother always taught me to dress up for flights, and I try maintain this as best I can while also being realistic. Bring spare clothes for the whole family if possible!
Make yourself at home.
An extended stay is designed to help you create a second way of life, a second home. Put your baby on a schedule, settle into a new routine. It’s not about a hotel mentality, it’s about a home mentality in a totally new place and it is such a pleasure! I really recommend trying to find a rental so that you can get into a rhythm.
We try to get on the local time zone right away. We’re zombies after the redeye but the excitement of arriving, and the endless espressos help. If our little one sleeps in the car, we usually arrive mid-morning so try to skip a nap for the rest of the day to get on a regular bedtime. The first year was tough with lots of nightly wake ups, this year was a dream. Both trips were great, so we just did the best we could.
What to pack
As little as possible while still also bringing the essentials that help with the transition: a handful of cuddly toys, a favorite blanket, some familiar books and toys. We find that our son is so fascinated by his new surroundings that he doesn’t need as many toys in the beginning, and then we pick up cheap and cheerful items as needed: a plastic truck, a noodle for the pool, some new books, etc.
In our case, all the toiletries that we use in the U.S. are readily available in the French pharmacies, so we can leave those heavy items at home and pick them up locally. Same goes for diapers, formula, etc, no need to bring them for an extended stay.
I know that we have a laundry machine so don’t need to overpack on clothes, and if he outgrows anything on the trip, we leave it behind (give it away).
Other thoughts, in no particular order:
- Don’t forget that you need a baby passport!!
- Use the local currency, even when prompted on the card machines.
- Rather than renting a hotel, I recommend renting an apartment or house for the extended stay so that you can have a kitchen and get into a routine without worrying
- Go early in the summer. Everybody in Europe takes their holiday in August, so go May and June. August is the most expensive and most crowded.
- Transition into village life, local life, as quickly as possible by finding out what the heartbeat of the town is, pottery, rug making, etc. and also where the best bakers and artisans are.
- Eat where the locals eat (hint: places that are full at lunchtime and evenings.
- Buy local buy local buy local!!!! As in America, look for local markets. Cook at home 🙂 Particularly places like France, people don’t do big shopping they go every day to buy fresh bread, vegetables. They buy what is ripe that day and they eat it that night, it’s a very different way of shopping and eating.
- Pimsleur programs are a great way to learn the language, just enough to get by at least!
REALX AND ENJOY you extended stay, it’s all a part of life’s rich tapestry. XX