Having a baby should not be a death sentence to your traveling aspirations. It should be the exact opposite, in fact. Never in your life as a parent will traveling be more affordable or easy as when your child is newly born, loves to nap, and is totally portable. Since I’ve been there and done that, Expedia.ca asked me to share my “Europe with an infant” story and tips anyone planning to visit Europe with an infant, toddler, or young child.
Children under 2 often fly for free and if you can hack the stress of a longer transatlantic flight, getting over to Europe with a baby is a wonderful way to explore the world.
We visited Paris, Normandy, and the Loire Valley when our son was just 9 months old, and while we were frazzled new parents and likely didn’t get the most out of the vacation that we could have, looking back I still think it was a wonderful thing to do. With the benefit of hindsight, if you want to take your baby to France, you should be able to do it with ease and enjoyment.
1. Go offseason
Without a school schedule to work around, traveling with infants means you can easily go off season saving on flights, hotels, and avoiding the crowds at popular tourist attractions. We made out trip in the spring (yes, we spent April in Paris) and it was perfect.
2. Europe isn’t stroller friendly
If you can wear your baby, go for it. There are lots of escalators and stairs and while it’s convenient to have them crash out in the stroller while you sit and have a cafe in a cafe, just know that if you’re using the metro, you’ll be hauling the stroller up and down and all around. It’s not a big deal, just an inconvenience you should be prepared for.
3. Hotels are family friendly
We stayed at Hotel Des Grandes Ecoles when we were in Paris. It’s beautifully situated in the heart of the 5th right near Rue Mouffetard, Notre Dame, Jardins des Plantes, and more. The converted convent was very comfortable and they offered us a crib for our son. Since you’re going in the off season, maybe you can even afford to splurge on one of these luxury stays in Paris.
4. Easy to self cater on the go
While we were very eager to dig into local cuisine, our young son wasn’t quite there yet. Sure, he enjoyed a bite of croissant, but when it came to baby food, it was easy to find at local grocery stores. As we sat and had a snack, servers were very agreeable to heat a dish for our son.
5. Sleeping babies see the town
While you’re not likely to be hitting any discos or after hours bars, you can still get out on the town and enjoy sidewalk cafes in the evening. If you do choose to bring a collapsable stroller, lie it flat for them to sleep while you wander the neighborhood, and have an evening drink. If they wake up, offer them a sip to knock them back down. It is France, after all!
6. See the countryside
We lugged our car seat across the ocean with the intent on seeing the sights outside Paris. We took a train to Caen where we rented a car and then drove the coast. We visited Honfleur, Mont St Michel, and Le Croisic before settling in for a few more days in the Loire Valley before returning the car in Tours. It was very easy to arrange and we only got lost twice. Okay, maybe three times.
The car rental and car seat installation was easy (apart from lugging it through airports and metro stations). We stayed in small towns along the way trying to time our drives with our son’s nap schedule. Getting out of the big city, slows the pace of your vacation and really allows more time to unwind.
Honfleur is a beautiful quiet town with a quaint harbour you could stare at all day.
We visited Juno Beach to pay respects to the Allied Forces from Canada who served our country.
We then jogged over to Mont St Michel where we arrived just a few minutes before closing and almost got locked in the church at the top after we got separated from a tour group!
We then went down to the very windy town of Le Croisic where we watched fleur de sel get harvested.
7. Pack lightly
We didn’t. Between the stroller, the Bjorn, the car seat, the extra diapers, the toys, the clothes, .. well, you can see by the picture how we handled it. You may be going to the other side of the world, but they have diapers, they have baby food (see above) and if it’s something you don’t really need, don’t really bring it.
7. Slow down and relax
Kids will interrupt your schedule when you’re traveling. This is a good thing. Instead of trying to cram everything in, and spending hours walking through museums and castles, you’ll pick the best and plan to rest. You’ll linger longer in parks (might I suggest Place des Vosges?). You’ll stop and change a diaper in a very small random town you never would have visited before. You’ll share a smile with a local and see a side of the country most tourists never do.