Italy with a Toddler

Myra, Aaron, and their 15-month-old daughter Ada lived like locals, renting apartments for the duration of their two-week adventure in Italy. With careful planning, Myra and Aaron managed to avoid many of the pitfalls of traveling with a toddler. We caught up with Myra recently after reading her colorful trip report on Fodors.com:

Traveling with a baby means hauling an enormous amount of gear. Did you find that you were able to streamline your packing?

We brought three types of baby equipment: a stroller, a baby backpack, and a car seat. We packed two large bags for the three of us. For our daughter, we brought lots of clothes (which pack easily), familiar toys, and small blankets. We brought enough diapers for three days and bought more in Italy. We considered bringing a travel crib, but decided it would be too cumbersome—our apartment rental provided a crib. Car rental agencies offer car seats, but it’s a “first come, first served” system and we didn’t want to risk there not being one available when we picked up our car.

For day trips, we used a medium-sized travel purse. We carried two diapers, wipes, sippy cup, a bag of snacks and some small toys (colorful bookmarks work wonders) in addition to the regular travel necessities: camera, water bottle, folding map and wallet.

It’s easy to forget that children do live in most vacation destinations. Keeping this in mind, we did not overpack diapers, diaper wipes, or baby food, opting instead to buy the basics as they were needed.

Getting there seems to be half the battle. Do you have any suggestions for parents reluctant to risk a long flight with a toddler?

My first suggestion is do a lot of research. Read trip reports from parents and learn from their experiences. I didn’t think travel with a young child was possible until I discovered this website and read the encouraging words of other parents.

We had a well thought-out “battle plan” to keep Ada entertained and comfortable on the flight. We chose a flight that departed near her bedtime that had the shortest in-air flight time. We paid more for Economy Plus, a class between economy and business. There is a separate line for this class at the ticket counter so check in was a swift process. We kept it simple in the airport by checking all of our luggage except one carry-on and a small umbrella stroller. The carry-on contained mostly Ada’s gear: pajamas and an extra set of clothes, diapers, diaper wipes, snacks, bottled water, and cheap new toys. We arrived at the airport two hours early and we let her explore the terminal. For take off, we gave her a sippy cup full of juice and a chewy granola bar to help with the change in air pressure. After dinner, we gave her the Benadryl and she slept for nine of the ten hours of the flight.

Did your traveling style change significantly for this trip compared to previous trips you’ve taken abroad sans your little one?

Before we had Ada, we traveled because we wanted to get a small taste of life in another part of the world. We were not whirlwind travelers who tried to see everything we possibly could in a week. We would find a place that interested us, plunk down for a few days and take our time exploring. This philosophy made adapting to traveling with our daughter a little easier though we did do things a little differently. Instead of going to three different places in Italy, we stayed in two. We rented an apartment instead of staying in a hotel. To get from the airport into Rome, we used a taxi instead of the train. We avoided museums and long, relaxed dinners in fancy restaurants.

How would you rate the overall toddler-friendliness of Rome, a city known for its chaotic pace?

We thought Rome was very friendly, perhaps because we avoided the chaos. We went in the “off season” during the first week of November. The weather was mild and there were still a lot of tourists but I assume far less than the summer months.

We felt welcomed everywhere we went (however, we also avoided places obviously inappropriate for small children). People constantly smiled at Ada, patted her head, or said “bella bambina” to us or their friends.

Were you and your husband able to take advantage of the local culinary delights? Do you have any tips for other parents attempting to dine out with their toddler in tow?

My husband and I love food but we are also satisfied with simple meals. Going to the grocery store is always a travel highlight. We never minded making our own ham and cheese sandwich because it was made with Italian ham and cheese on Italian bread. And since we had a kitchen we made a lot of our own meals, especially for breakfast and lunch. When we ate out, we focused on pizza and panini, pasta with various sauces, fresh biscotti and cookies from the bakery, and of course, gelato.

While eating out, usually for lunch or an early dinner, our favorite places to eat were restaurants with outside seating next to a piazza. If she got squirmy, one of us could jump up and let her run around a bit until the food arrived. We kept our order to one or two courses knowing our daughter wouldn’t last longer than an hour. We brought small toys to entertain her, but straws, sugar packets and bread sticks also helped keep her occupied. We once made the mistake of going out to eat (inside a crowded trattoria) during her normal bed time and it was a disaster. It reminded us that we eat on her schedule, not ours.

Click here to read Myra’s complete trip report.

How did they do it? Below are a few of Myra’s pre-trip posts on the Talk forums:

  • Rome—Need Help Choosing an Apartment
  • Rome, Tuscany – then what?
  • I need a baby backpack for a traveling toddler
  • Best Airline for Toddler
  • Compiled by Katie Hamlin