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Rome and a Baby - Some Travel Tips

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My husband, 9 month old daughter and I are just back from 10 days in Rome. A trip report is forthcoming (we even took notes this time!) but in the interim, I wanted to pass along some tips I learned on my first overseas trip with our new baby. Feel free to send any questions – I found all the advice on the board very reassuring and helpful in planning for our trip and hope to return the favor. While we are not seasoned baby travelers, hopefully this advice from novices is helpful.

Getting There – we decided to buy a seat on the plane for the baby (hereinafter known as “La Gigante” the nickname one Italian gave her when we told him our hale and hearty daughter's age. Italian babies are very small!). I'm glad I bought the seat. I could have held her, and if the tickets were very expensive probably would have done so. But we were able to find cheap tickets so bought one for each of us. We flew out on a Tuesday and plane wasn't crowded which was handy as we were able to change to bulkhead seats and no lines for the bathroom, easier to get on and off etc. The only bad thing about buying an infant a seat is that we had to bring out bulky car seat (we weren't driving in Rome so otherwise would not have needed one). I ended up buying a wheeled car seat bag from Babies R Us the day before we left since we didn't have a direct flight and I thought it would be hard to carry everything around. The bag ripped before we even got on the plane but worked okay as far as making it easy to transport the seat around the airport. The overnight flight was very easy, La Gigante slept the whole way there. She was a lot more alert on the way back. Her ears didn't seem to bother her at all.

If you can get direct flights, I would. We didn't because the difference between the cheap tickets we got and direct to Rome was very steep. We gave ourselves a lot of time to connect flights which I think was a good idea since we were the last off the plane and it took a while to move around with the baby.

Where to Stay – we rented a one bedroom apartment. Even though we'd been to Europe many times we've never rented an apartment before. I really enjoyed staying in the apartment and we really appreciated having the extra space with the baby. La Gigante slept in a pack and play (which the apt provided) in the living room and we slept in the bedroom. That arrangement let us stay up later and read while she had her own room. A two bedroom apt would have been nice too but wasn't worth the extra money in our opinion. Having a kitchen was very helpful with feeding the baby. The apartment was advertised as having a washing machine but didn't. I had a small fit about that when we arrived since we didn't bring that many clothes and the rental agency (Rome Sweet Home) knocked 50E off the price. We ended up bringing our laundry to a laundromat to have it washed twice during the 10 days for 15E each time (they were big bags).

The apartment was located on Via Monserrato close to Campo di Fiori. With a baby I would definitely recommend staying as close to the area where you want to sightsee as possible. We found it sometimes hard to get out in the morning and usually had to return once a day for a nap. Being central cut down on the time to get back to the apartment and also if only one of us stayed while La Gigante napped, the other could just step outside and do some sight seeing. Also it is good if possible to pick an area you enjoy because you will likely make more trips back and forth to the home base than otherwise and so you'll see more of the area.

We found our apartment through the travel agency Ciao Bambino. I wish I could say that I liked Ciao Bambino because I love their business idea (family travel), but in reality, I didn't find them helpful at all and I'd suggest you save your money rather than pay them. They found me an apartment that I would have found myself online with 5 minutes of research. When something went wrong (we were supposed to get a real crib, not a pack-and-play and a week before we left the apt owner said that he couldn't get one for us), Ciao Bambino didn't take any responsibility for it. They also said that they would provide information about local doctors, where to buy baby supplies etc and they didn't do any of that. Maybe we just had bad luck with them but I wouldn't recommend them.

Jetlag/Schedule – La Gigante didn't seem to have jetlag at all on the way to Rome. She took a nap when we arrived on the afternoon the first day and then we all stayed up until about 9pm. She normally sleeps 7pm-7am but was on a later schedule (10pm - 9am) while we were away. We are not too crazy about a schedule at home but La Gigante generally takes a morning nap and then at least one or two naps in the afternoon. At first we tried to leave and get back for her naps but as the trip wore on, we usually ended up coming back after lunch for a group nap and she would just fall asleep for long naps (45 min-1hr) in the stroller other times during the day when she was tired. It worked better for us to have a big lunch and then just a quick dinner or drinks. La Gigante really didn't have the patience to sit through two restaurant meals a day and with dinners starting at 8:30-9 she'd start to get tired and irritable. Before we left, we wondered if we'd be sitting in the apt every evening looking longly out the window but that wasn't the case. While La Gigante didn't want to sit through a long dinner, she was fine going for a walk. We enjoyed having cocktails then going for a walk (and gelato!) and getting home by 9:30-10.

It took a little while to find a schedule that worked for all of us. I would allow a few extra days to acclimate to how the situation is going to work for you and work into the trip gradually. If you have any events that have set times I would try to schedule them a bit later in the trip because we found them challenging early on. One of the great things about Rome that really works well with a baby is how much art is available in churches. That meant that we could easily enter and exit, sometimes going back in and out if necessary, visits were not of giant museum length, could be easily repeated if circumstances changed, and could be done whenever a promising church presented itself on our wanderings.

Equipment – we brought: carseat for the plane; inflatable bathtub (the apt only had a shower) which we used on the kitchen floor and threw out at the end of the trip; portable booster seat (used in the apt); stroller; a few small toys; bottles; few receiving blankets and a baby fleece blanket.

The stroller was a matter of great debate. I wanted to bring our big orange Bob jogging stroller because it is so easy to push and good on cobblestones but thought it would be too big to bring in restaurants and that we would really look like goofy americans with this humongous bright stoller while all the cool Italian mamas pushed their tiny gucci umbrella strollers, while wearing stilletos and smoking. We were right that the jogging stroller would have been too big to comfortably bring in a lot of the restaurants (some don't have highchairs so you want to bring the stroller) but I saw many of the same strollers in Rome that I do in Boston (some jogging strollers though they didn't seem as big as the Bob, bugaboos, umbrella strollers, basinett style, and a number of alien looking stokke strollers. That said we thought the Bob might have been a bit big to maneuver easily down narrow sidewalks and maybe have looked a bit large although its big wheels would have been useful. We ended up bringing a Maclaren umbrella stroller. I thought it was worth it to buy a good umbrella stroller because we really gave it a work out going hours a day over cobblestone streets (although La Gigante seemed to love bumping over the cobblestones, she'd either sing out as she bumped up and down, or fall asleep from the motion). Having the raincover was handy too. I'd never used it before at home.

We brought a front carrier and only used it once, in a museum that didn't allow strollers (Borghese Gallery fyi). If you like a baby backpack, that would be helpful (I personally don't) and La Gigante is too heavy to use the front carrier for very long.

The apt supplied a pack and play. I brought a sheet but the Italian pack-and-plays are a different size (longer and narrower) so it didn't fit. Instead I used a baby blanket as a sheet.

Also glad I brought – lots of little bottles of purell (came in handy as a sink not always available when sightseeing); lots of teething toys, we lost many in transit (although you can buy all the same ones in Rome); baby motrin (also probably available but when La Gigante screaming from teething pain, I was glad not to have to find a pharmacy). Brought but (fortunately) didn't need – baby medicine kit e.g., thermometer, nasal aspirator, etc.

What you don't need to bring – tons of diapers (they have same Pampers in Italy), wipes or other diaper stuff. All the pharmacies seemed to sell Avent products (bottles, pacifiers), diaper products and toiletries. The pharmacies even carried things like activity mats and toys. I brought a few jars of baby food and bought the rest there. La Gigante didn't care for some of the local cuisine but we made do with the formula, fruit baby food and yogurt. She did develop a taste for gelato and bread. If your baby is using formula, I'd bring it as I only saw one or two unfamiliar brands in the store. I didn't notice anyone nursing in public but I wasn't really looking and I'm sure no one would care if you did. On an unrelated but interesting note, cavallo (horse) is a popular baby food flavor.

Day to Day – there aren't many changing facilities in Rome and the bathrooms are so tiny I could barely fit in myself. We relied on creative solutions (like quickly changing La Gigante while she was sitting in her stroller). Walking on the narrow streets with cars whipping by was not a problem. Drivers seem used to dodging pedestrians. I also learned that babies seem to like going over the cobblestones. Rome is really noisy, especially at night where noises echo in the narrow streets but La Gigante slept well since she was tired from all the stimulation during the day.

General Thoughts – traveling with our daughter was wonderful and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I was pretty tired of hearing people tell me before we left that we are “brave” or, less nicely, “crazy” for taking a baby to Rome. Maybe we are just lucky that La Gigante is an easygoing baby and we were fortunate that she didn't happen to get sick while we were away. But it was so much fun to spend this much time with her (normally I work in an office 3 days a week) and she seemed to just be happy to be around her parents and didn't care where she was. Any major city obviously has lots of babies, baby supplies and parents living in it. So what if we had to do a few public diaper changes and La G missed a few naps.

The trip did take some adjustments on my husband and my part as the pace was a lot slower, we had to be more flexible and we certainly saw less than we would have seen on our own. If I had never been to Rome before I probably would have been disappointed to not pack in more sightseeing. However, at a slower pace I found that I experienced more. One day I walked around Piazza Minerva for an entire hour walking La G in her stroller while she slept and my husband went in the Sopra Minerva church. I couldn't think or a more beautiful place to spend an hour and with every lap I saw some new detail. I also met an Italian nonno with his grandson, a couple nuns in training (I don't know what you call that) and a driver waiting for his client – all of whom I spoke to in Italian (which for me is a big deal).

We also seemed to meet a lot more people with the baby. People in Italy were very interested in babies and would come up to say hi and see the baby. It was kind of like having a St. Bernard in a US city. La G enjoyed the attention. Restaurant owners seemed pretty accommodating about having a baby and seemed happy to have us back on return visits, even remembering the baby's name to greet her. We had hoped Italy would be a welcoming place for a baby and it certainly was; it would be interesting to compare to experiences in other countries.

My advice is that if you have the opportunity to travel with your baby, do it! It was an experience we'll always remember and made this trip to Europe a truly different experience. Planning and packing was stressful but after being there for a couple of days, all that stress disappeared and we just had a great time.

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